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Who is a ‘journalist’ today, where they work and what they do

Significant numbers of journalism and communication graduates now practice what they consider journalism, even though they don’t work for traditional news organizations, our survey of journalism school graduates found.

The survey probed this phenomenon with several questions, including asking people to explain in very granular terms what skills they employ in their work and what issues or topics they produce content about.

One question we asked people regardless of where they were employed is if they “would describe the work they did or contributed to as journalism.” We found that many do journalistic work in nontraditional places. And significant numbers of people, too, utilize skill sets they studied in journalism and communication schools in work they do not describe as journalism.

Sizable minorities of people who work in other fields feel they are now producing journalism outside of news organizations.

In all, 35% of the more than 10,000 respondents describe what they did to be journalism, while 59% did not. Another 6% weren’t sure or didn’t answer.1

Yet in some ways, the most revealing trends emerge when these findings are broken down by employer. Most who work for a journalism employer considered what they did to be journalistic. In all, almost three-quarters (72%) of those working for journalism organizations considered their work as or contributing to journalism.

At the same time, however, sizable minorities of people who work in other fields but who have training in journalism, marketing, public relations or communication feel they are now producing journalism outside of news organizations.

For instance, 17% of those working for commercial brands believe their work to be journalistic; so did 19% of those in politics.

More than a third of those who consider themselves entrepreneurs (34%) believe they are working in or contributing to journalism. So do 20% of those working in technology, as well as 26% of those in education (many of whom might be teaching journalism).

Employer type Yes, my work is journalistic
Journalism employers 72.4%
Commercial employers 16.8%
Education employers 26.0%
Political employers 19.4%
Entrepreneurs 33.8%
Technology employers 19.5%
All respondents 35.3%

Data Source: Question: Would you describe the work you do or contribute to as journalism?

American Press Institute

And just as journalism may be contributed to or practiced in many kinds of industries, the survey also finds that it may come from those with different educational degree concentrations — even within the communication and media education. On top of that, a journalism education is not just training people to be journalists.

Of those with journalism degrees, for instance, fewer than half (42%) considered the work they currently did to be journalistic, and 51% did not.

But nearly a quarter (23%) of those with communication (rather than journalism) degrees describe the work they do as journalism. So do more than 10% of those whose degrees were in advertising or public relations.

Degree type Yes, my work is journalistic
Journalism degrees 42.1%
Communications (non-journalism) degrees 22.7%
Advertising / PR degrees 10.4%
All respondents 35.3%

Data Source: Question: Would you describe the work you do or contribute to as journalism?

American Press Institute

The survey also went further, asking people specifically what tasks they perform in their jobs — wherever they worked. This was exploring the kind of skills that might be necessary in different fields, and getting a more detailed sense of what people might mean when they describe their work as journalistic or not.

Accounting for the fact that people do multiple tasks (most cite on average 2.5 from these lists) fully half of these graduates, 53%, say they are involved directly in creating content (meaning they do reporting of some kind, write, copy edit, web design, data visualization, work with user content, and more). Most of those who also say they supervise these people or do brand content creation have also listed themselves here. If you add everyone, the number rises slightly to 55%. More than a third (36%) say they employ reporting and writing skills, 19% copy editing, and almost as many, 15%, in audience engagement through social media and community content. A smaller number, 5%, said web development and production, while 8% said data visualization and graphics, and 3% said data journalism.

About a third of graduates are engaged in marketing, public relations or advertising, including 25% in public relations, 9% in brand content production, 8% in writing advertising copy. Fully 14% of these graduates are now in education, and that number is higher among older graduates. More than 5% are doing audience research, and 7% more traditional market research.

Tasks graduates perform at work

Skill Percent
CREATING CONTENT 52.7%*
Writing and reporting 36.0%
Copy editing 19.2%
Audience engagement (social media, community content) 15.2%
Graphics / design or data visualization 7.7%
Web development (designer or developer) 4.5%
Data journalism 3.2%
TV / video / radio production 5.1%
Photo 7.6%
Web production 6.4%
MANAGEMENT 25.4%*
Assignment / section editing 8.8%
Product management 5.5%
Senior management 15.0%
PR / MARKETING / ADVERTISING 33.9%*
Advertising creative, art 4.1%
Advertising creative, copy 7.9%
Advertising account executive / planner 4.7%
Content production for brands 9.0%
Media planning / buying 4.9%
Public relations / marketing 25.4%
EDUCATION / TEACHING 13.7%
RESEARCH 13.1%*
Academic research 4.1%
Audience development and research 5.2%
Market analysis / research 7.3%
OTHER 17.9%*
Other non-media related 7.7%
Legal services 3.0%
Sales / customer service 2.9%
Business Development 1.5%
Fundraising 1.2%
Event planning 1.0%
Lobbying 0.7%
Recruitment / HR 0.6%
Publishing 0.1%

Data Source: Question: Which of the following best describes what you personally do in your job? (Select all that apply.)
* Percent who answered any of the included subcategories

American Press Institute

One striking finding, though, is where these different skills are being employed. As an example, 22% of these graduates working in journalism organizations say they perform tasks that they would describe marketing and public relations. Roughly half of those working in commercial brand companies (48%) are engaged in creating content, and that number rises to 50% if we add those identified specifically “content production for brands.” Fifty-four percent of those in politics are engaged in content creation. Marketing and public relations are a significant part of the tasks described by people in all the employer groups (47% of these graduates working politics, 46% of those in startups, 38% of those in technology).

In the modern workplace, the tasks people perform cut across the landscape.

Content, though, remains at the core for those in journalism. Fully 80% of those who work for journalism employers describe the tasks they do as directly creating content, and that does not include necessarily all of the managers or senior manager who supervise them who did not cite directly creating it themselves.

Task Journalism Commercial Educational Political Entrepreneur Technology Other/prof
Percent who create content 80.3% 48.1% 41.7% 53.9% 63.8% 54.2% 23.7%

Data Source: Question: Which of the following best describes what you personally do in your job? (Select all that apply.)

American Press Institute

Task Journalism Commercial Educational Political Entrepreneur Technology Other/prof
Percent who do PR /
marketing / advertising
21.5% 67.6% 30.2% 47.2% 45.6% 37.6% 19.8%

Data Source: Question: Which of the following best describes what you personally do in your job? (Select all that apply.)

American Press Institute

The generational gap in skills

The study puts in sharp relief the extent to which those who graduated in the past decade have skills to do digital work in greater numbers than older people working in media.

For instance, 22% of those who graduated in the past 10 years employ social media and community audience engagement skills, compared with 15% of those who graduated between 1996-2005 and 7% of those who graduated before 1981. The youngest are twice as likely to do graphic design (11%) as the oldest cohort (4%), web development (6% to 3%) or to create content for commercial brands (12% vs. 5%). Just 7% of this youngest cohort say they are engaged in audience development and research as part of their job and 4% data journalism — but while relatively small numbers, these, too, are roughly double that of the oldest group. The youngest group is more likely to be involved in web production, including aggregation.

On the other hand, the only job skills for which the oldest cohort significantly outnumbered the youngest were “education and teaching” (16% among those graduated before 1981 vs. 10% for the post-2006 graduates) and “senior management” at 26% for the oldest group and only 4% for the youngest. Both are job roles which inherently favor more tenure and experience.

 

 Job duties 2006-15 graduates 1996-2005 graduates 1981-95 graduates 1980 and before graduates
Academic research 4.1% 3.8% 4% 4.6%
Advertising creative, art 5.5% 3.9% 3.7% 2.4%
Advertising creative, copy 8.5% 8% 7.8% 6.8%
Advertising account executive / planner 5.1% 4.4% 4.4% 4.6%
Assignment / section editing 8.7% 8.9% 8.5% 9.1%
Audience development and research 6.9% 4.4% 5% 3.6%
Audience engagement
(social media, community content)
22.4% 15.3% 13.5% 6.7%
Assignment / section editing 4.9% 5.2% 5% 4.7%
Content production for brands 11.7% 10.2% 8.5% 4.5%
Copy editing 19.8% 19.6% 19.4% 18%
Data journalism 3.9% 3.5% 3.1% 1.8%
Education / teaching 10.2% 13.7% 15.8% 16.4%
Graphics / design or data visualization 10.6% 7.7% 6.8% 4.3%
Market analysis / research 8.6% 7% 7.6% 5.4%
Media planning / buying 5.3% 5.5% 5.1% 3.6%
Photo 9.9% 6.8% 6.1% 6.4%
Product management 5.7% 6.5% 5.7% 3.9%
Public relations / marketing 26.1% 24.7% 27.3% 22.8%
Senior management 4.4% 13.1% 20.6% 25.8%
Web development (designer or developer) 5.9% 5% 3.9% 2.5%
Web production (including aggregation) 10.2% 6.6% 4.3% 2.9%
Writing / reporting 39.3% 33.4% 32.5% 37.2%
TV / film / video / radio production 6.7% 5.5% 3.8% 3.9%
Event planning 1.2% 1.1% 1% 0.8%

Data Source: Question: Which of the following best describes what you personally do in your job? (Select all that apply.)

American Press Institute

  1. These totals include all 10,482 respondents, including those who are retired and those who are seeking work, who referred to the work they did in the past. Fully 44% of the 1,148 respondents who are retired said the work they did was journalistic, and 33% of the 369 people seeking work said their work in the past was journalistic.

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