Online journalist looks a lot like a copy editor
Top skills: Paying attention to details, multitasking on deadline, news judgment, grammar

Journalists in online newsrooms must be able to "think online" while still thinking like a journalist, and their most important skills are what all good journalists do - especially copy editors, according to research released by the Online News Association.

The survey of more than 400 online managers and producers was done by C. Max Magee as part of his master's program at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism.

The top-rated skills considered job requirements by managers are:

1. Attention to detail: 91.9%
2. Ability to work under time pressure: 90.7%
3. Communication skills: 85.2%
4. Multitasking ability: 84.3%
4. Teamwork and collaboration ability: 84.3%
6. Ability to learn new technologies: 79.2%
7. News judgment: 78.4%
8. Grammar and style: 70.3%
9. Organization: 68.6%
10. Awareness of new technology: 56.8%

The skills used most frequently by producers are:

1. Multitasking ability: 94.9%
1. Attention to detail: 94.9%
1. Communication skills: 94.9%
4. Ability to work under time pressure: 94.4%
5. Organization: 88.4%
5. News judgment: 88.4%
7. Awareness of new technology: 84.8%
7. Teamwork and collaboration ability: 84.8%
9. Project management skills: 82.8%
10. Grammar and style: 81.3%

Associate Professor Rich Gordon, who supervised Magee’s research, said in a column for Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits that his “biggest takeaway” from the survey was that “the traditional journalism job that most resembles online newsroom roles is that of copy editor. What online newsrooms need are people who have news judgment and can copy edit, write headlines, package and present content on a page.”

Gordon added:

“Of course, the way these functions are carried out is different online than in a print newsroom. But I think a good print copy editor would probably have a much easier time transitioning to an online producer job than a print reporter would. Given that most online news jobs don't involve original reporting, copy editors should be more interested in these jobs than most print reporters are.

“With the challenges the print newspaper industry faces, if I were working as a print copy editor right now, I'd be trying to learn the new Web-specific skills I'd need to move over to the online operation. And if I were running a journalism school with a strong focus on copy editing (Medill is more reporting-focused), I would be scrambling to update the curriculum to prepare online producers.”

The survey also asked online journalists which online production tools were most important. The producers said they use these tools frequently or every day; the rankings are part of the full list of skills and attributes:

13. Use of a content management system: 72.7%
14. HTML: 71.7%
18. Photoshop: 55.6%
22. Web usability: 44.4%
24. Dreamweaver or other Web page authoring: 38.4%
25. Web design: 37.9%
27. Metrics analysis: 32.8%
28. Multimedia authoring: 26.8%
29. CSS (Cascading Style Sheets): 23.2%
* 30. Audio production: 22.7%
* 31. Video production: 21.7%
32. Scripting languages (PHP, ASP, etc.): 15.7%
33. Flash: 14.6%
33. Database design/administration: 14.6%
35. Javascript: 13.6%

* The survey listed 35 skills divided into four categories: attitudes and intangibles, editing and copy editing skills, content creation and online production tools. These two skills were considered content creation tools rather than online production tools.

Other skills in the content creation category, and the percent of producers who frequently used the skill, were photo editing (49%), reporting and writing original stories (43.9%) and creating alternate story forms, such as polls, quizzes and Q&As (37.4%).

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