Standards changing

The skills that journalists have long cherished are in the same state of flux as the industry itself. The style of news on display on the Web challenges fundamentals such as writing style. "The Web is forcing newspapers in general to get more casual, more vernacular," Jon Katz told American Journalism Review. 1 Also, just as untrained individuals take a participatory role in the news process, the talent pool at mainstream news organizations is changing.

Web site managers may disagree about the skills needed to work on the Web. A University of Texas undergraduate study asked several online news editors what skills they sought in job candidates, finding that some continue to seek "good reporters with good stories," while others seek "more well-rounded" candidates who can think about different types of presentation and record sound and video. 2

The pool of candidates has changed in recent years because managers seek different skills and the surging economy has lifted many news organizations out of their recession-era hiring freezes, creating new opportunities for many prospective journalists. Opportunities have improved dramatically for younger journalists, who would have competed for the few entry-level slots at newspapers and television stations in past years but may now find themselves courted by managers seeking candidates who have used the Internet as part of their daily life in college. Many Internet journalists have less experience than their print counterparts, especially at an operation such as the Chicago Tribune that hires Web-only reporters. 3

However, the days of hiring less experienced journalists for Web sites may be changing, said a Web site content programmer interviewed for this paper:

"Five years ago, any college grad who had built a web page about their cat could get a job editing a news site. So could any journalist who could send email, though most of them didn't want to. No one had done any of this before, so organizations put a premium on what they thought was technical savvy. It was also easy to talk your way into a job, since many hiring editors didn't know the difference between telnet and AOL. Now, news organizations can require more experience in their new media hires. There are more people in the field, with more collective years of experience. More older journalists have joined the online ranks, and we younger kids have grown up and learned a lot, too." 4

Still, the Web site programmer complains that many young candidates have not developed the skills they need. A Web site manager with a newspaper background raises a similar point, lamenting that younger candidates may be neglecting the "old-fashioned" skills that are still useful. "There has been no advance to replace old-fashioned reporting," he said in an interview for this paper. "I'm afraid that newer journalists will never appreciate the fine art of working the telephone to get a great story." 5

Other skills needed on the Web, though, are indeed new. A Web site manager finds that experience should not be overvalued in her new line of work. "Experience has given us all some grounding and knowledge, but for the most part what I have done in the past means nothing," she said. "It's what I do now that counts. ... Our thought patterns are not set. It's wonderful." 6

The values of younger journalists differ little from their more experienced colleagues, according to the Pew/CCJ survey. The survey found younger journalists share older journalists' commitment to "principles of independence, accuracy, fairness, or public mission." 7 The most notable difference between Web journalists and other journalists in the survey is the question of whether "remaining neutral" is a "core principle of journalism": 76 percent of those in national media answered "yes" to the question, while just 52 percent of those who work in Internet news agree. 8

Accuracy, however, requires some expertise, and some journalists are concerned that this expertise is waning. The Pew/CCJ study finds 40 percent of national journalists and 55 percent of local journalists say news is "increasingly marred by factual errors and sloppy reporting." 9 Also, approaches to accuracy have not yet been standardized on the Internet.