What skills do journalists need to succeed in the digital age?

Industry leaders will come together to discuss the future of journalism at a joint UNSW-Walkley Foundation roundtable this week. 


Credit: Anatolii Babii/iStock Photo

A who’s-who of media industry leaders will come together to discuss the future of news at a joint UNSW-Walkley Foundation roundtable aimed at identifying what makes a good journalist in the new media age.

The 11 August symposium, which will feature top names in hiring from firms including Google, ninemsn, News Corp Australia, Junkee Media, ABC and Fairfax, is part of a larger strategy to feed industry relevant information into UNSW’s media curriculum.

Associate Professor Kath Albury, a lecturer in the UNSW Master of Journalism and Communication program, said the high-powered focus group would provide valuable insight for the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences' journalism programs to reflect the demands of the changing media landscape.

“It’s an opportunity to ask: what is the industry looking at right now, how can we feed this back into teaching and into curriculum at the University and update courses to better fit the current environment,” said Albury of the initiative, which is funded through a UNSW learning and teaching innovation grant.

“It’s about offering the students a picture of what’s going on in the industry and giving them a realistic expectation of what they’re stepping into.”

Walkley Foundation CEO Jacqui Park hailed the collaboration with UNSW as a unique opportunity to explore how premier outlets were positioning themselves in the current climate and how best to support journalists and graduates to succeed.

“The pace of change we’ve seen in journalism over the past five or 10 years is incredible, and every year we’re seeing new jobs and roles created to provide the new skills that newsrooms need,” said Park.

“Many of the skills and qualities of an outstanding journalist are the same as they’ve ever been, but linking students with insights from leaders practicing journalism at the top of their game is one of the best ways universities can help those graduates prepare to enter the industry.”

Albury is recording short videos to be used in teaching with forum participants about innovation and entrepreneurship in the media sector and some interesting themes had already emerged.

Legacy outlets were after the “old fundamentals – people who can write, who can get on the phone and make the calls, people with a can-do attitude”.

But newer startups wanted graduates who understood social optimisation and could track their story’s popularity online and tweak it accordingly; who could pitch, write and illustrate a story but also do the “back-channel analytics”.

“They have a much more sophisticated, almost editorial eye than the classic graduate journalist would be expected to have. So that’s what we’ve found quite interesting, that diversity in the industry,” Albury said

Park said today’s graduates certainly faced challenges when it came to securing a job but there were also new opportunities for young innovators.

“Their fluency with digital technology and social media is really attractive to employers, who often expect those young people to file stories across a number of platforms and formats simultaneously,” she said.

“We’ve also seen, though, that employers are still looking for the classic traits of great reporters – curiosity, attention to detail, a passion for story and love of language.”

Chair: James Kirby, managing editor, Eureka Report & Walkley Innovation board

·         Annie Baxter, global communications & PR, Google Australia & NZ

·         Hal Crawford, editor in chief & publisher, ninemsn

·         Mark Drasutis, head of innovation, News Corp Australia

·         Tim Duggan, content director, Sound Alliance/Junkee Media

·         Marina Go, general manager, Hearst-Bauer Media

·         Stephen Hutcheon, innovation editor, The Sydney Morning Herald

·         Annie Markey, editor, Debrief Daily

·         Kylie Merritt, director of digital, Australian News Channel

·         Gaven Morris, head of news content, ABC