Skillwalls not paywalls

Fern Growing from Brick Wall
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Tomorrow I’m off to Skillset to talk about their new standards framework for journalism. I’m looking forward to the chat around what skills journalists need and not just because I’m involved in delivering this stuff to our future journalists. What I’m equally interested in is what skills the industry think they need (the framework has been created in consultation with industry and accreditation bodies) as it says a lot about what they think a journalist actually is – what defines the job.

It’s been something on my mind since the newsrewired conference a few weeks ago when the vexed debate of identity reared its head. That debate is best paraphrased as “grumblings on why people can’t be called a journalist” and left at that.

But the skillset visit and a chat with Francois Nel about onions and data, pushed it to the front of my thinking again.

The best way I can sum-up where that thinking has got me is Skillwalls.

A skillwall is the best way I have found to balance the argument (in my head) of what sets journalists apart with the issue of what will people pay for.

In terms of the ‘definition’ debate a journalist would be defined by which skills your average punter/blogger/anyone-you-don’t-want-to-call-a-journo does not have or is unwilling to develop. The skillwall is too high or too much effort to climb.

Skillwalls help define the paywall debate for me in terms that are more tangiable. People will pay for stuff that they can’t do themselves. If you have the skills to do that ,they may pay you. Thinking about it as a skill issue works better for me than trying to assess a value proposition.

The web has become a place where people can do things – it enables. The successful sites are those that enable them to do things it would be hard to do otherwise. Things that would take new skills.

Skills Vs. experience or Skills and Experience

This is where it gets difficult for the industry and why I think recent discussions have been so interesting for me. Yes, the knowledge and experience is valuable but is it a skill? Is going to lots of council meetings a skill? Is knowing the PM’s press secretary a skill? Valuable, yes, but a skill? No. Being able to get that stuff online in an interesting way is.

Unless you can do one people won’t see the value of the other.

It’s easy to be dismissive of skills. They can be seen as functional, low level things. But skills enable. Get over the skillwall of data gathering on the web and you can add the value of your knowledge and experience.

Of course a skillwall is not an exclusive or all encompassing barrier. It’s a peculiar new obstacle/challenge that digital has thrown our way. But it’s also a powerful opportunity for journalists to exploit.

So where is your skillwall and what are you going to do to get over it?

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3 thoughts on “Skillwalls not paywalls”

  1. Although it’s hard not to agree that unique skills and ways of producing news are becoming more important than ever, I don’t think skills are necessarily all people will pay for or where all the focus should be. Investigate reporters don’t think “well, I could’ve done this myself, why am I paying for this?” when they’re reading a newspaper. People like link journalism and digests not because they can’t find the news themselves, but because they love a quirky selection made by someone who is, well, not them. And if you really care about a topic, you don’t care how well it’s presented to you, you just want to read all you can.

    Skills may be what can set one newspaper apart from another, and the unique content that that leads to is essential if you want people to pay for what you do, but that’s really only part of the equation, methinks.

  2. Thanks for stopping by Stijn.

    I take your point but you can’t have link journalism and digests if you don’t have a strategy to find, collate and manage links and information. That means things like RSS and social and web search. Not a skill. But using pipes to mash that up and filter it to manage the flow is and that might mean that you have a better quality raw material to apply whatever selection criteria you want.

    I agree it its only part of the equation, as I said it isn’t exclusive or all encompassing, but it adds an element to the debate that is missing – an idea of what sets a journalist (not a newspaper or broadcaster) apart from the rest of the people on the web.

    The debate about that often starts at an esoteric level about the inherent knowledge and experience. It often confuses the historic pedigree of journalism with the all together more unpredictable nature of journalists. Just because journalism has been around for long time and done good things it doesn’t mean all journalists have that experience. We need to ground it more.

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