10 things every journalist should know in 2013
A list of tips from industry experts, including Aron Pilhofer, Raju Narisetti, Mark Little, Alison Gow and Steve Herrmann
This year, in addition to making our own points, we have spoken to some key industry figures to include their ideas.
1. It's all about skills, skills, skills
Aron Pilhofer, editor of interactive news at the New York Times, has one piece of advice for journalists wanting to get ahead: "Skills, skills, skills, skills, skills, skills."
"Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, it is just not enough any more to just be able to turn a phrase, or do the traditional kinds of reporting," he told Journalism.co.uk. "You need to be a little bit of a jack of all trades; you need to be able to shoot and cut video or do audio or code or do data analysis," he said.
"And it's even more important now than it ever has been in this shrinking industry to have those kinds of skills."
Steve Herrmann, editor of BBC News online, agrees. He looks for those with skills in social media, data journalism and with "an ability to appreciate the importance of still pictures, of video, graphics and audio in communicating and telling stories".
"It's not necessarily being expert in all of those things," Herrmann said, "but being aware of their importance and appreciating when they can be really effective and have impact."
2. Editors need data journalists
Back in May, Neil McIntosh, deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal Europe, said at an Association of Online Publishers event: "Data journalism is like sex at university – everyone talks about it; few do it; fewer still do it well."
So while there has been much talk and little action at some titles, several of the editors we spoke to said that 2013 will see a push in data journalism.
Alison Gow, editor of the Daily Post and DailyPost.co.uk in North Wales, told us data journalism is "something that first, last and most of all I need to be thinking about in 2013".
"I don't think I can overstate how important that is to us," she added.
"Many people in this industry think data journalism is about numbers, but data journalism is actually just the best way to find out what the story is. It's not the figures you get out of it, it's the information that you find within the figures – and I think that's where I really need to concentrate in 2013."
Steve Herrmann said a knowledge of data journalism is something his team at BBC News online looks for when recruiting.
"An appreciation of the importance of data and facts and figures has always been critical in journalism," he said, but news sites are now looking for "ways of using data to tell stories".
This may be a simple graphic, or a developer-built interactive such as 'The world at seven billion' or 'Where are you on the global fat scale?', both examples of interactives where the reader enters data to participate in the story.
3. Tone is important
This point may be an obvious one to many, but it's crucial to understand the tone you should take when talking to sources on different platforms.
"There's nothing worse than that kind of awkward moment when people start demanding 'send me your pictures if you are at X' rather than having a conversation around it," Alison Gow told us.
Mark Little, founder and chief executive of social news agency Storyful, feels journalists need to get used to jumping into conversations and speaking in "a tone of voice that is not self-important, that is not self-regarding".
"People don't care about what your title is, whether you are a correspondent or you are home affairs editor," he said, adding that sometimes more established journalists can struggle to find the right tone when speaking to sources on public platforms.
"I think they have to learn how to be a little bit more human without exposing themselves to the risk of undermining the reputation of their news organisation or their own personal brand."
4. News sites are going live
Live reporting became ever more popular in 2012. From liveblogs to live updates boxes and sections on sites such as BBC News, the WSJ and, as of late last year, included in one of the Telegraph's new homepage templates.
Alison Gow explained that the regional she edits trains its reporters in live skills, including liveblogging and live tweeting from court and council meetings. "It's really important that people are telling the story live as it happens," she said.
5. Journalists are 'managers' of information
"Journalists are no longer people who hold scarce information and serve it up to a passive audience; they are essentially managers of this overabundance of information," Mark Little told Journalism.co.uk.
According to Alison Gow, a reporter's role is now one of "helping people tell the story".
Journalists can curate the news by verifying and adding tweets or videos from eyewitnesses to news stories, or by using curation tools such as Storify and Bundlr.
6. Depth is important
When we asked Aron Pilhofer what we can expect from the New York Times in 2013, he said his team would be focusing on deeper community engagement.
The New York Times has already been focusing on deeper engagement for some time. For example, its Well blog started a 'Picture your life after cancer' project in 2010, encouraging cancer survivors to share photographs of themselves.
On Twitter the New York Times has carried out deep engagement by using hashtags such as #asknyt, inviting followers to flag up particular statements for fact checking.
Another example of the breadth rather than the depth of engagement is how the title approaches Google+ Hangouts. In August social media editor Alexis Mainland told us that her team was organising fewer Hangouts but with a greater impact. For one Hangout Mainland and colleagues spoke to nearly 100 people to find and select five really strong contributors.
7. Inaccuracies will be exposed
There are countless examples from 2012 of journalists and verification experts acting, in Mark Little's words, as "bullshit detectors", flagging up hoax or fake images and videos shared on social media.
There has also been a rise in news outlets harnessing the crowd as fact checkers, whether around statistics or political coverage.
With social media and sites such as Poynter's Regret the Error encouraging transparency, journalists must be aware that inaccuracies will be exposed and should know how to handle corrections online and on social media. Follow Craig Silverman's posts for advice on the ethics of corrections.
8. User experience matters
Raju Narisetti, managing editor of the WSJ Digital Network at the Wall Street Journal, believes reader experience is critical and news outlets must shift their focus "from just creating content to creating a great experience with that content, especially for digital audiences".
"My belief is that those organisations which also focus on creating experiences with their content will become winners, and those who just focus on content probably have to play catch up."
9. Online journalism is mobile first
Mobile is an important traffic driver for news sites, we are regularly reminded. At particular times of the day the Guardian's mobile traffic exceeds desktop traffic; on an average weekday 24 per cent of readers of BBC News access via mobile, with that rising to a record of 30 per cent on the day of the US election last November, the BBC Editors' blog reported. And more than a third of New York Times traffic now comes from phones and tablets, according to this post by Martin Belam.
But while some sites have a mobile first strategy when thinking about how to present data visualisations, features and multimedia, many journalists have desktop in mind when creating the story.
Examples of those practising 'mobile first journalism' include the New York Times which creates interactives with mobile in mind, and Brian Boyer, news applications editor at NPR, recently told me that if a member of his team has an idea that does not work on mobile, it does not get developed.
But other stories are clearly created for desktop. For example, Pitchfork recently published an interview with musician Bat For Lashes. The desktop experience has been heralded as the future of feature publishing online, Belam writes, but points out that it does not work on mobile.
In a presentation at December's news:rewired digital journalism conference, Belam said: "Think reader before editor. Think software before content. Think simplicity before features. Think mobile before desktop."
10. It is essential to embrace change
The final tip for journalists as we start the new year is from Steve Herrmann from BBC News online. He says journalists must embrace change.
"If you don't love change you are going to be a very stressed out individual because things change so quickly.
"Whether it is the tools that we use or the way in which audiences get their information, it's changing all the time and you have to love that otherwise it's going to get you down."
For a day of inspirational ideas sign up to attend news:rewired on 19 April. The digital journalism conference will include many of the topics discussed here, including data journalism and online corrections.
Ten things every journalist should know in 2012
Ten things every journalist should know in 2010
Ten things every journalist should know in 2009
Freelancers for hire
- Advertise here: Contact
- Phil Butterworth 01273 384293