Insights, tools and research to advance journalism

Skills, knowledge and comfort levels with job skills

The survey also probed a series of questions about a range of different skill sets and asked people about their knowledge and comfort levels with them.

One question in that sequence asked people about some two dozen skills that they might use in whatever their field and asked how important they thought each one was. That list ranged from writing and reporting skills to numeracy and entrepreneurship to knowing the history of the web.

In many cases people rated traditional skills highest, but there were some surprises on the list as well. When ranking by percentage of graduates who called the skill “very important” to their work, leadership and career development skills ranked near the top (4 and 7) as did social media skills (6) and knowing new ways to market content (8) and entrepreneurship (12).

There are five skills that a majority of all respondents ranked as “very important,” though all journalism and communication graduates were surveyed about this, not just those involved in journalism or even content creation. The top two skills that majorities described as very important were ethics, (84% called it “very” important) and writing, (84% “very “important”). The third-ranked skill, “having subject matter expertise,” was described as very important by far fewer (58%). Next came leadership skills (54%) and newsgathering (53%).

Skill % saying "very important"
Ethics 84.4%
Writing 84.2%
Subject matter expertise 58.0%
Leadership and team management 54.4%
Newsgathering / reporting / interviewing 52.5%
Social media 47.5%
Career development / job-seeking 46.2%
Marketing content in new ways 43.7%
Audio recording and storytelling 35.3%
Fluency with data and numbers 34.9%
Understanding best practices of other organizations 33.7%
Entrepreneurial skills 33.4%
Investigative reporting 32.0%
Audience / consumer research 31.6%
Fluency with the business of media 26.3%
Audience data and metrics 26.0%
Video shooting and editing 26.0%
Media law 24.6%
Data visualization and chart-making 22.0%
Still photography 19.5%
Graphics and web design 18.0%
Coding languages 5.4%
Computer science/theory of web 3.6%

Data Source: Question: How important do you think each of the following skills is for someone in the field you work in today?
Showing percent saying "very important."

American Press Institute

And for which of these skills would people pursue further training than they currently have?

That was a dramatically different list, curiously. Here, graphics (ranked 21st in importance) and social media skills, came out as the skill set most people said they would pursue (31% for each), followed by leadership and team management skills and learning content marketing (28%).

Skill Percent
Graphics and Web design 30.9%
Social media 30.7%
Leadership and team management 28.4%
Marketing content in new ways 27.5%
Video shooting and production 25.2%
Writing 24.8%
Data visualization and chart-making 22.5%
Fluency with data and numbers 22.2%
Entrepreneurial skills 21.7%
Understanding audience data and metrics 18.5%
Audience / consumer research 17.9%
Still photography 17.5%
Subject matter expertise 17.6%
Audio recording and storytelling 16.7%
Career development / job-seeking 16.3%
Best practices of other organizations 15.8%
Coding languages 14.8%
Investigative reporting 14.3%
Fluency in the business of media 12.2%
Media law 11.6%
Newsgathering / reporting / interviewing 11.7%
Ethics 10.5%
Theory of the Web and computer science 3.7%

Data Source: Question: For which of these skills would you pursue further training? Check all that apply.

American Press Institute

We also asked people about 10 different technologies they might use in their jobs today — from knowing how to write computer code to using database tools for reporting.

On that list of 10, people were most comfortable with using social media platforms. Nearly 71% of these graduates say they are comfortable with them, 43% saying “very” and 28% “somewhat.” Using digital tools for verifying information was second. Here, 68% say they’re comfortable–with 40% saying very much so. Nearly half register comfort with database reporting. Yet just 30% of these graduates register comfort using HTML, the most basic computer language, and just 11% saying “very.” Fully 57% say they are uncomfortable or don’t use it at all.

Technology Don't use Not comfortable at all Somewhat uncomfortable Somewhat comfortable Very comfortable
Social media tools 16.0% 1.6% 3.8% 27.7% 43.2%
Using digital tools to verify information 17.6% 1.4% 2.4% 28.0% 40.1%
Tools for responding to reader questions/comments 27.8% 1.1% 2.2% 21.5% 39.8%
Content management systems 28.9% 2.6% 3.2% 24.9% 30.6%
Databases and computer assisted reporting 28.0% 3.0% 6.3% 28.4% 21.1%
Project management tools 33.6% 4.3% 5.6% 24.0% 16.2%
Graphic design software 35.8% 7.5% 9.8% 21.8% 14.0%
Page design or layout software 38.7% 7.0% 7.9% 20.5% 15.3%
Using HTML 37.8% 9.1% 10.0% 19.3% 10.8%
Other programming languages 58.5% 18.2% 8.5% 3.9% 2.5%

Data Source: Question: How comfortable are you employing each of the following technologies or digital practices for your job?

American Press Institute

Do these totals begin to look different if we dissect them by age? Are more recent graduates fundamentally different than older in their comfort level with digital skills?

There are differences, but perhaps not as striking as some might expect. For instance, 10% of those who graduated before 1981 say they are very comfortable with HTML. Just 11% of those who graduated after 2005 say so. Twelve percent of those who graduated more than 35 years ago are comfortable with graphic design software. Of those who graduated in the last 10 years, that number rises to just four points, to 15%. Computer assisted reporting shifts from 18% saying very comfortable of those who graduated before 1981. It moves up four percentage points to 22% of those who graduated in the last decade. Actually more graduates from 1996 to 2005 expressed high levels of comfort with computer assisted reporting (24%).

While those differences may suggest older graduates are learning on the job, it also suggests that communication schools may not have changed as much as some might have anticipated. There is a good deal more data exploring that specific question in the next section.

Technology Graduated 1980 or earlier Graduated 1981-95 Graduated 1996-2005 Graduated 2006-15
Social media tools 18.9% 35.1% 46.2% 61.9%
Using digital tools to verify information 29.8% 34.2% 43.8% 48.8%
Tools for responding to reader questions/comments 36.4% 40.1% 39.5% 41.6%
Content management systems 18.2% 27.0% 32.7% 39.5%
Databases and computer assisted reporting 17.5% 20.8% 23.9% 21.7%
Project management tools 12.5% 16.3% 18.1% 17.4%
Graphic design software 11.8% 14.5% 14.6% 14.7%
Page design or layout software 13.7% 16.4% 14.4% 15.9%
Using HTML 10.4% 11.3% 10.4% 10.7%
Other programming languages 2.8% 3.0% 2.5% 2.0%

Data Source: Question: How comfortable are you employing each of the following technologies or digital practices for your job?
Showing percent saying "very comfortable."

American Press Institute

Finally, we went more in depth at one of these skill areas. Social media has become so important to how people find content, particularly news, that the survey probed in great detail how people are using social networks now in their jobs.

The answers fall into four basic categories. People could use social media to learn or listen, either to consumers or other people in their area of expertise; they could use it for marketing and distribution purposes. They could use it to manage people, as in recruiting employees. Or they could not use social networks.

The number-one way that these journalism and communication graduates used social media was to stay connected to their network of colleagues (both a learning and managing method), followed by promoting their content (which is marketing).

Use Percent
To stay connected to my network 57.2%
To promote my stories / content 52.4%
To watch competition 40.6%
To create brand awareness 35.7%
To discover new sources 34.9%
To ask questions for stories / research 17.4%
I don’t use social media in my job 17.8%
For sales promotion 15.2%
To recruit employees 15.1%
To interact with students 9.4%

Data Source: Question: How do you use social media?

American Press Institute

As we might expect, when one graduated makes a difference here, but perhaps not as large a one as some might expect. For instance, 63% of those who graduated in the past decade say they use social media to promote the content they have produced, versus 56% for those who graduated in the previous decade. The most recent graduates are also more likely to use social media to “discover new sources” (43%), compared with 35% of those who graduated in the decade prior. The biggest differences, of course, are with those who graduated in 1980 or earlier, a group that is most likely over 55.

But for various uses there are not major differences except with the very oldest age cohort and the youngest. And fewer of the very youngest age cohort may be using social media in certain ways than some might expect. For instance, only 23% say they use social media to ask questions of people as part of their reporting, compared with 17% who graduated in the decade prior. In other words, relatively few across all age cohorts are using social media fully as a reporting tool versus one for marketing.

Reason Graduated 1980 and before Graduated 1981-95 Graduated 1996-2005 Graduated 2006-15
To promote content that I or my publication has produced 34.0% 51.9% 55.7% 63.1%
To stay connected and network with people in my subject area 40.6% 60.3% 62.9% 62.6%
To keep an eye on the competition 23.5% 40.3% 45.6% 49.5%
To discover new sources 25.0% 33.3% 35.1% 42.6%
To raise awareness of a brand I’m working on 23.0% 39.6% 39.9% 38.8%
To ask questions as part of my reporting 10.9% 15.9% 17.3% 22.8%
As part of sales promotions I’m working on 11.8% 18.4% 16.1% 14.5%
To discover and recruit for employees, community contributors 9.7% 16.9% 18.5% 15.3%
To interact with students as an educator 8.4% 11.1% 10.5% 8.1%
I don’t use social media in my job 28.0% 15.8% 15.9% 13.6%

Data Source: Question: In what ways do you use social media, check all that apply?

American Press Institute

If people in media have been criticized for being slow to embrace social media, the data here would suggest that criticism may be somewhat unfair.

When we break down this data by employment category, those in news generally are more likely to say they use social media for almost every task than those in other fields.

For instance, 68% in news say they use it to promote content they produce, compared with an average of 46% across other fields. And 51% in news say they use social media networks to “discover new sources” to learn from, higher than the average of 29% across other fields. Even if one looks at a category of social media use that may seem especially universal to any field, to “stay connected and network with people in my subject area,” people in news rank high, about the same as those who work in entrepreneurial or startup companies. Fully 62% of people in news say they use social media in this way and 63% for entrepreneurs. It averages 55% across the other employment categories.

Reason Journalism Commercial Educational Political Entrepreneurial Technology Other professions
To promote content that I or my publication has produced 68.3% 50.8% 48.4% 50.6% 55.7% 48.0% 22.4%
To stay connected and network with people in my subject area 62.0% 60.4% 57.1% 55.9% 62.6% 59.9% 43.3%
To keep an eye on the competition 52.5% 47.1% 28.4% 27.9% 43.5% 44.7% 23.5%
To discover new sources 51.3% 29.5% 31.0% 27.2% 38.7% 34.5% 16.0%
To raise awareness of a brand I’m working on 27.8% 54.6% 32.2% 42.6% 44.3% 43.8% 22.3%
To ask questions as part of my reporting 32.3% 10.6% 13.6% 11.7% 20.7% 16.4% 3.8%
As part of sales promotions I’m working on 10.6% 27.8% 8.1% 12.6% 28.6% 24.5% 10.9%
To discover and recruit for employees, community contributors 13.1% 21.4% 12.5% 15.0% 16.6% 25.0% 11.8%
To interact with students as an educator 6.2% 5.0% 35.9% 7.3% 8.0% 5.3% 2.2%
I don’t use social media in my job 11.6% 15.2% 19.9% 21.2% 14.6% 19.0% 34.2%

Data Source: Question: In what ways do you use social media, check all that apply?

American Press Institute

Need to Know newsletter

The smart way to start your day

Each morning we scour the web for fresh useful insights in our Need to Know newsletter. Sign up below.

Featured topics

Go deeper on…

Dive deep on everything we produce about these key topics.

Strategy Studies

The best practices for innovation within news organizations

This Strategy Study presents examples and insights about journalism innovation, offering actionable advice and methods to move your journalism and business forward.