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date: 07 March 2021

Skills and Journalismlocked

  • Henrik ÖrnebringHenrik ÖrnebringDepartment of Geography, Media, and Communication, Karlstad University

Summary

What skills do journalists need? Why do they need them? What do we even mean by “skill” in the first place? In journalism research, the issue of skill has mainly been studied as an applied issue closely linked to journalism education. The main concern has been whether journalism education equips students with the skills they need to succeed in the job market, as well as with the skills they need to fulfill journalism’s democratic function. There is a long-standing conflict between these two “skill goals” of journalism education, where vocational or practical skills are often viewed as (at least potentially) in opposition to academic or theoretical skills. Journalism students need vocational skills in order to satisfy employer needs, and academic skills in order to satisfy wider societal needs.

Another key research concern in this area has been the issue of de-skilling: the idea that journalistic work gradually becomes less and less skilled as employers mainly demand quicker outputs across different media platforms, rather than the production of quality content. Another element of the deskilling idea is that experienced (older) journalists are phased out and/or replaced with less experienced (younger) and therefore cheaper journalists who do not necessarily possess specific or very in-depth training in journalism. This process is mainly linked to the ongoing commercialization and digitalization of journalism. Empirically, however, many research results point instead either to a general upskilling of journalism (a higher and higher share of the workforce have a university degree, for example) or to the fact that deskilling may occur in parts of the occupation, whereas other parts may experience upskilling.

All of this research has in common that skill is rarely defined and that analyses of skill rarely reference the wider sociological and psychological literature on skill, expertise, and competence. A few scholars have analyzed skill among journalists at a higher level of abstraction, attempting to define what the core expertise or skill of journalism actually is. This research direction is key to the future development of research on journalism and skill.

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