Reasonably often, because of my job, I get asked what I think the skills a journalist of the future needs. Often – and this is particularly true of university academics – they immediately give me a buffet of options to choose from. Is it social media? Is it data? Is it video? What about podcasting?
My answer, sadly, doesn’t help much: Generally, it’s all of the above. But none of the above are any good if you don’t display the most important skills of all: Accuracy, curiosity and a desire to share.
When I was training on the Citizen series of free newspapers in Preston, I was lucky to be surrounded by a number of people who took the time and effort to knock a cocky 18-year-old into shape, ranging from a photographer called Rob Underdown who, over a pint, advised me on how to improve my attitude in the office to Gill Ellis, then the deputy editor, who dragged me – almost kicking and screaming – to my first Preston Council meeting. The very first reporter I learnt from on work experience, Gordon McCully, taught me the importance of great contacts and sent me out on what turned out to be the splash in the first week I was at the Chorley Citizen.
Then there were various people on newsdesks of the Lancashire Evening Telegraph and the Citizens who took the time to point things out. But perhaps the point which sticks with me most vividly came from another mentor, a chap called Harold Heys, who was appalled my appalling spelling. Harold’s a bit of legend among a generation of Lancashire journalists who passed through this newsrooms, thanks largely to his infamous spelling tests. As a 17-year-old on work experience at the Citizen, I first encountered the spelling test and managed to get accommodation wrong.
Four years later and it was still my password to access the company editorial system every day. As ways of teaching you to spell, it’s second to none, if a bit limited. As a way of driving efficiency in the newsroom, it’s less effective. Anyway, Harold drummed into me – and many others – that the most important skill a journalist should hone was accuracy.
And that’s never been truer than now, in a multimedia age where newsrooms shouldn’t be producing content for the next day’s paper, but within minutes for never-full website.