Are journalism students under too much pressure to have multimedia skills as well as basic writing skills?

Within the journalism industry, the pressures of trying to be the best are undoubtedly high, like any profession, but when does it become too much?

Gone are the days when a newspaper was the only way to find out what was going on in the world around us, multimedia such as Twitter or Facebook are fast becoming the first, if not only, places to get news from. This change has had to be accommodated by news media organisations, and the institutions training future journalists.

I wanted to find out if one of the issues around a changing media landscape is whether journalism students are under too much pressure to have multimedia skills as well as basic writing skills. As a student studying a journalism degree, I know only too well how many different modules we take part in, with each one teaching us a different skill to be a successful journalist. Due to the sheer volume of expertise needed to work in the industry, has this sacrificed ‘good’ journalism?

The worry is; will good journalists who can write informative and interesting stories, or confident broadcasters be overlooked by mediocre journalists with excellent multimedia skills in the future? Only time will tell.

I wanted to get an idea of what established journalists, who have been working in the industry for a number of years, thought about the multimedia student journalists of today were learning about, to see how it had changed from when they were studying. I also wanted to get a detailed opinion from a current student studying journalism.

As well as this, I wanted to get a general idea of what current students thought, so I asked 30 journalism students “do you feel threatened by the need to have multimedia skills, editing skills, and online skills as well as the basic skills or being a good writer?” These were the results:

As you can see, over half of the students asked said they did feel under too much pressure with the amount of multimedia skills they have to learn, but the gap between those who did and didn't is only small. Those who said no will more than likely feel pressure, but not ‘too much’ pressure, I want to find out whether the number of skills needed is becoming an issue.

As i said before I wanted to get opinions from people who are already established within the journalism industry, so I interviewed a few people to get their ideas on this subject matter.

I spoke to Steve Panter, a lecturer in Journalism at Salford University who has had experience in the journalism industry working for news groups such as the Manchester Evening News and other corporations, here’s what he had to say:

There is no denying that the training of journalists has severely changed, with new technologies available all the time, it is bound to.

Whilst pressure on students is huge, the real issue lies with what creates the pressure; news organisations expecting their staff and interviewees to have multiple multimedia and social media skills when they apply for jobs. Without the pressure on journalism students, their jobs would be inaccessible to them if they only had basic knowledge of anything outside the traditional aspects of writing for news. This proves that the pressure is necessary, but when it’s coming from all angles, students could be forgiven for feeling the strain.

This was confirmed when I spoke to Niall Macdonald, a former Sky News journalist who I interviewed, here’s what he had to say:

This again confirms that if you weren't taught the skills, you would be massively behind others, and you would not be able to wok in a news organisation as you would simply be unequipped.

To demonstrate this further, i found the best way for me to contact Niall for an interview was via twitter, as it was quick and easy, showing how important social media has become to journalists making contacts in various areas of the industry.

There are opposing views, of course, in that some people believe multimedia is just an expected addition to the tools every good journalist should have, as without it you simply cannot keep up with a changing media landscape. They don’t think you can say the pressure on student journalists is ‘too much’ and it is now a set of expected skills for in every day life, and in the work place.

One of the main pressures on student journalists is the time in which they have to fully understand and learn the skills they need, to a standard that can be used within the industry. With such a broad variety of tools that are necessary in the multimedia world of news, as well as various knowledge of reporting laws, and the basics of how to write the content to put on the platforms themselves, the pressure on both students to learn and tutors to teach them all is difficult. Some may argue, however, that the pressure is needed to push students to learn as much as they can, and strive be one of the best in a competitive profession.

I spoke to Zeta Stephenson, a second year journalism student at Salford University. I asked her ‘Do you feel threatened by the need to have multimedia skills, editing skills and online skills as well as the basic skills of being a good writer?’ her response was:

I chose to interview Zeta via Facebook because that was my only way to contact her; I didn't have her email or phone number. I also thought that using a multimedia platform to do the interview would be a good way of showing how effective gathering news sources through social media is.

Whilst social media is one aspect of journalism growing in popularity, blogging is another. The changing media landscape has seen a huge increase in the number of people blogging about anything and everything. Trained and trainee journalists find themselves competing for page views with upcoming citizen journalists. This may be seen as a threat to some, why would someone pay you to do this as a job whilst others are doing it in their spare time for free?

Writing for a blog is again, another different technique and style of writing for student journalists to get to grips with. This is of course once they have learned how to use the platform on which to publish it on.

I spoke to Roy Rowlands, business development director at Cognitive Publishing, who said:

For many people, social media is part of their normal day, whether they contribute to it or just browse through, they have a basic understanding how it works. Roy’s point illustrates that the current generation of trainee journalists have grown up using these media outlets, so how can learning how to use it for journalism be seen as too much pressure?

Whilst the pressures of being a student journalist in a changing multimedia landscape are ever increasing, I believe it is a huge push to try to be the best at every aspect you learn. The main issue is having the time to fit all the journalistic tools needed in the industry into the teaching time provided to students. However, once you learn how to use them, your versatility within any newsroom will be huge, and prepare you for any more future changes that will undoubtedly happen.