The day of the digital specialist is over

I spent a few minutes looking at a newspaper jobs website recently, and barely recognised some of the roles advertised.

What, exactly, does a story editor, digital journalist or multimedia images journalist do?

The old, familiar newsroom job titles – reporter, sub-editor, news editor and photographer – are disappearing and being replaced by a new lexicon for the online world.

This is not in itself a bad thing. It is, though, confusing because there is no longer a consensus on what to call people who do a certain task, or set of tasks.

In response to the transformational change sweeping the industry, the big newspaper groups have come up with their own ways of describing the jobs that need doing in their newsrooms.

Meanwhile, the boundaries between what people do are becoming increasingly blurred, making it more difficult to produce neat and widely understood job descriptions.

It seems likely, then, that a convention within the industry on editorial job titles may not be found for some time, if ever again.

What is harder to fathom is why some newspapers continue to put their faith in digital editors, heads of digital content and suchlike. Presumably it is because they believe some journalists have, or should have, more advanced digital skills than their colleagues.

This policy implies that there is a divide between ‘ordinary’ journalists and those more in tune with the requirements of the internet. In doing so it is counterproductive to efforts to change newsroom cultures and put digital at the forefront of our output.

The fact is we are all digital journalists, and digital editors, now.

There are few technical skills that should be beyond anyone in the newsroom.

If there are they should be addressed by training, not by seeking to use specialists, a practice that will serve only to prop up the very barriers we should be tearing down.

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About John Wilson

Editor of Hereford Times, Ludlow Advertiser, Stroud News and Journal, Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard and Gloucestershire Gazette series. Journalist for more than 30 years.
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