10 key skills for digital journalists to hone in 2014
With ever-evolving opportunities to discover and share stories on digital platforms, the need to keep digital skills up-to-date is vital for journalists.
In order to give journalists an idea of some of the main skills to be working on, we sourced ideas from the Journalism.co.uk newsroom and our Twitter community to compile a list of 10 key areas to consider.
We hope that the mix of skills, techniques and qualities listed below would help journalists to stay ahead of the game in terms of digital innovation, be able to harness the latest tools and techniques most effectively and create the best quality content for their audience.
There are, of course, lots of other useful skills to make you stand out in the newsroom, the list below is not all-inclusive, but these are some of those considered particularly important in today’s media world. In no particular order:
- Validate and verify
In the midst of a breaking news event, as information and rumour spread around social networks and the rest of the web, being able to verify content as true, or as close to the truth as can be established, is a hugely valuable and important skill. And it is one which many journalists continue to hone.
Whether that’s establishing the date or location of an image or video, or simply corroborating written accounts of an event, the journalist’s role in uncovering the facts is no less vital on digital platforms.
In addition to the traditional skills involved in trying to reach the source and others who may be able to corroborate the story, there are a wealth of tools and options available online, such as to investigate the history of an image or key features of a video.
Chief technology officer of Storyful Paul Watson suggested to Journalism.co.uk that journalists use Google Image Search to check out the past-life of a photo. You can download a Google Chrome extension to do that with a simple click of the mouse.
Many more tools journalists can use, such as Tin Eye and Snopes, are referred to in this Journalism.co.uk guide on how to verify content on social media.
The importance of verification has only been further highlighted lately by the recent purchase of social news wire Storyful – which runs a Google+ Open Newsroom for community verification – by News Corp, and the development of the InformaCam app which will gather metadata – time, location and more – when the photo or video is taken to assist in verification.
- Understanding analytics and how to use them
Know how many pageviews your last article has received so far, or what the key traffic referrals were? If so, how will you then use that information? Knowing how to find, understand and use analytics data is another important skill for journalists to really get to grips with.
Along with editorial judgement, journalists can use the data to, for example, consider optimum times of the day to share content on specific platforms, how best to deliver the content or what sort of content the audience is most engaged with.
News outlets use a multitude of platforms to measure this data, ranging from third-party platforms like Chartbeat, Omniture and Visual Revenue to their own custom-made platforms.
The Guardian and Forbes Media have both built their own analytics platforms, and Journalism.co.uk recently spoke to those behind them about the process and benefits of ‘doing it yourself’.
There are also a number of platforms for focusing in on social media analytics, covered in detail in this Journalism.co.uk feature on how to use such data to inform social strategy.
- Make the most of your mobile
2013 offered up further examples of the power of the smartphone for both journalists themselves, and members of the public, to gather and share content on the go.
Early last year the Associated Press used live video streaming app Bambuser to share footage following an explosion in Prague, BBC News has used its Instagram account to share 15-second video snippets documenting the impact of the typhoon in the Philippines, and Sky News aims to have its journalists broadcasting “live within 90 seconds” thanks to their use of smartphones and broadcasting app Dejero.
Mobile reporting is far from a new trend, but the ability to quickly capture, edit and share images and video with ease is a vital tool for any digital journalist and, as we head into 2014, it is a time where digital journalists are fast establishing their ultimate mobile reporting kit to have to hand. Keep an eye on the Journalism.co.uk App of the Week for ways to make your smartphone a more efficient reporting partner.
- Enhance the user experience
Previous years’ lists have addressed the importance of user experience, and responsive design in particular is expected to continue to be a big trend in the coming year.
Journalists are also being encouraged to consider more engaging ways to deliver stories on digital. This means trying out new tools and platforms which help enhance the experience, from building interactive timelines or images through to fully-immersive multimedia packages.
The emphasis being placed on journalists to consider new and more effective digital storytelling techniques only seems to be growing, particularly if recent announcements are anything to go by.
Last month the BBC announced plans to introduce a News Labs team to encourage the outlet to “be more innovative and more experimental” as well as “develop new formats” for telling stories.
And in the same month, just before the Christmas break, Trinity Mirror shared details on a new “digital content innovation team” it would be putting together this year, led by Alison Gow, new deputy digital publishing director (most recently editor of the Daily Post).
In a statement at the time of the announcement, digital publishing director David Higgerson said that the aim is for Gow and her team to “innovate with content to find many more ways of keeping audiences engaged with our content online”.
- Master the data basics
Data journalism skills vary widely, from more basic techniques involving cleaned tables of data and the creation of a simple line graph, through to more advanced processes to prepare data for analysis as well as coding to create interactive visualisations and apps.
For any journalist, the ability to quickly find the big stories within a dataset is obviously crucial, and most journalists are likely to find themselves working with data of some description on a fairly regular occasion. Therefore the next step is to be able to tell that story as most effectively you can.
And for the digital journalist of 2014, an understanding of the tools at your disposal to assist you with those processes is key, including standard spreadsheet skills such as the ability to use pivot tables. A quick search online offers up some useful tutorials.
- Consider content discovery
Do you have high social media referrals, or is search still a big player in driving traffic to your content? If you are already on top of your analytics then you will probably know the answer to that already, but if not it is important to think about your content and how it will reach different audiences.
That means thinking about important, relevant keywords for those likely to be searching around that subject, as well as what headlines will work well on social. On Twitter, you need to capture the audience’s attention within 140 characters, in an environment where they are likely to be just dipping in and out of what may be a fast-moving timeline.
And that does not just necessarily mean throwing in lots of hashtags to maximise your opportunity. As Sarah Laitner, communities editor at the Financial Times recently told Journalism.co.uk, journalists should “try to make tweets as straight-forward as possible”, with additions such as hashtags used “only when they provide context”.
Also bear in mind the different sorts of communities across platforms. Advice tends to be that visual content works particularly well on Facebook, for example, as Anna Doble, head of online for Channel 4 News said at a BBC conference last year.
The result of all this is in producing content which is searchable and shareable, but approaches vary from site to site. Quartz, for example, has a logic of writing a tweet-length headline first, as well as trying to keep stories shorter than 500 words, or longer than 800.
Think about platform as well – news outlets with a large mobile audience may consider more of a ‘mobile-first’ approach to how stories are constructed and delivered and more native to the way mobile-readers consume news.
- Be an active part of your social networks
Journalists are increasingly experiencing the power of online communities when it comes to newsgathering and the power of the crowd, and they may also be putting different tools and techniques into practice to make networks manageable and more meaningful. But how much are you giving back?
Twitter is not just a place to broadcast, it is a place to engage, share, interact. Slightly different approaches may apply based on your own news outlet, the Economist for example has found that its audience only really wanted link-sharing from its main account, but this is supported by other “more creative” styles of sub-account, as community editor Mark Johnson explained last year.
But generally speaking, being responsive to your community is essential for effective social media engagement.
And journalists are also encouraged to look beyond the main platforms of Twitter and Facebook, to discover new communities, or more niche networks, who may be particularly interested in certain content or useful in terms of sources for specific subjects. We wrote more on how to engage with diverse communities in this feature from last year.
- Good digital admin
In a follow-up to the previous point, keeping on top of all your social media and other platform accounts is also important. Are your details up-to-date in your Twitter bio and do you make it clear how people can reach you? Do you have a Google+ and LinkedIn account, and are these up to date?
As well as being social, the point of these platforms is also to network. Do your networks need some TLC? How long has it been since you followed someone of interest on Twitter, and could you be organising your Twitter contacts better using Lists?
What about LinkedIn, are you making the most of the platform for networking with contacts and colleagues. Making sure your profile is up-to-date and linking to the right people could come in handy both for connecting with contacts but also when it comes to looking for your next journalism job. Journalism.co.uk’s managing director John Thompson has 8,000 journalism-related connections on LinkedIn, and so is well worth connecting with to gain a ‘second-degree connection’ to those members of the community.
As well as keeping things organised within your own social media profiles, journalists can organise the rest of the web, and in some cases bring potential leads or other patch updates to you automatically, using tools such as If This Then That (IFTTT).
Journalists also need to back-up content, and consider using cloud-based platforms to keep copies of content you may need to access outside the office, or share with others. We shared more digital admin tips like this in our feature outlining pointers for journalists to get prepared for the new year.
- Online security
A hot topic for 2013 was online security. Journalism.co.uk reported on how news outlets can try to keep their online properties, from websites to social media accounts, safe from being hacked, as well as more general advice. See this Journalism.co.uk podcast for more information.
Whether online or not, journalists have always had to think carefully about how they share information, particularly when it comes to anonymous sources, and a number of journalism events in recent months have served to put a spotlight on the issue, sharing advice from security experts.
- Traditional journalism skills
On a final note, while this list is dedicated to digital skills, it is important to close by highlighting that all these should continue to work in tandem with the traditional skills of good journalism, and good writing.
The original point of digital verification as a vital skill in today’s industry only highlights the overall principle of accuracy as a defining factor of quality, for example.
And good writing – be it a long-form immersive feature, the script to an online video, a breaking news live-blog, a witty list of top tens, or the 140-characters of a tweet – continues to be valued.
Late last year I crowdsourced opinion on essential skills for journalists just before I spoke at an event about the very same subject. Here is a Storify of the responses, which also reinforced the value of traditional journalism skills, bolstered by digital prowess.