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THE GAP BETWEEN ONLINE JOURNALISM EDUCATION

AND PRACTICE: THE TWIN SURVEYS

By Ying Roselyn Du, Ph.D.


Assistant Professor
School of Communication
Hong Kong Baptist University

and

Ryan Thornburg
Assistant Professor
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
CB# 3365
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3365
919-962-4080
ryan.thornburg@unc.edu

Presented to the Newspaper Division


Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
Annual Convention, Denver, Colorado

August 4, 2010

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Abstract

The gap between journalism education and journalism practice has long been the

focus of debates in the field. Amid the emergence of online journalism in the 1990s, the

profession's criticism of journalism education has continued unabated. It is ever

important to revisit the old “gap” issue in this new context. This study attempts to

examine the discordance between education and practice by comparing online journalism

professionals and educators’ perceptions of key skills, concepts, and duties for online

journalism. Findings of the twin surveys suggest that differences do exist in the online

context.

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Introduction

The gap between journalism education and journalism practice has long been the

focus of debates in the field. Professional journalists chide journalism professors for

talking to students about what they see as a trade best learned in its practice. As early as

1967, Highton lamented that newspapering was becoming a sidelight, if not an

afterthought, of many journalism schools (Highton, 1967, p. 10). In the past decades,

both the academia and the media industry have paid much attention to the gap between

the newsroom and the classroom. Scholars as well as professional journalism

organizations have conducted research concerning the topic. The one thing on which they

agree is that something must be done to narrow the divide.

Overall, previous research suggests that a gap does exist between journalism

education and practice, one way or another. For example, research on journalism faculty

found that many educators felt there was antipathy or estrangement between themselves

and the working press. Other research has observed that journalists do not like what is

taught in journalism schools, and they do not trust those who teach it.

Amid the emergence of online journalism in the 1990s, the profession's

criticism of journalism education has continued unabated. The skills that media

professionals need to survive and succeed have shifted with the evolution of

technologies. Today’s journalism graduates are walking into a field that is

constantly changing because of technology and convergence. It is ever important

to revisit the old “gap” issue in this new context. This study attempts to

reexamine the discordance, if there still exists, between the education and

practice by comparing online journalism professionals and educators’ perceptions

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of key skills, concepts, and duties for online journalism. It hopes to help bridge

the gap between newsroom and classroom.

Literature Review

For decades, journalism education has been criticized for failing to move

in tandem with the real world of newsroom. There have been ongoing debates

between media professionals and journalism educators about what is needed in

newsrooms and what should be taught in classrooms. The gap between what

educators and media professionals perceive important has been the focus of

much previous research.

Starting from the 1980s, several studies have looked at “the gap” from the

professional point of view. Overall, these studies revealed that many media

professionals were dissatisfied with basic writing skills of new graduates. For

example, Cowdin (1985) found that professionals were not pleased with

journalism graduates’ writing skills and their lack of knowledge in areas in which

they were writing stories, such as history, economics and government. Mabrey

(1988) noted the two criticisms mentioned by Cowdin – that graduates can’t write

well and don’t know enough about the specific areas – as well as several others,

such as graduates do not or will not read, that they do not have an serious sense

of accuracy, they do not know how to ask questions, and they have no passion

for news. Later, Fedler (1993) observed several major demands of media

professionals on journalism education. These include faculty members with more

professional experience, greater emphasis on the practical skills needed to

prepare students for work in the newspaper industry, a greater emphasis on the

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liberal arts, less emphasis on communication theory courses, and less emphasis

on Ph.D.s and research as requirements for journalism faculty members.

Professional associations and projects also joined the individual scholars

in studying “the gap.” The “Electronic Media Career Preparation Study”

commissioned by the International Radio and Television Society, The Radio-

Television News Directors Association, and the National Association of Television

Program Executives found that the executives in the electronic media industry

and related fields emphasized the need for closer ties between the electronic

communication industry and educators. They rated higher education lowest for

practical knowledge and hands-on experience, and suggested that more

professional lecturing/teaching is the best way to improve the industry’s

relationship with academia (Roper Organization, 1987). At about the same time,

the Project on the Future of Journalism and Mass Communication conducted a

survey of the leaders of media organizations that belonged to the AEJMC Council

of Affiliates and reported that industry professionals and leaders were not

enthusiastic about the performance of journalism and mass communication

education (Project, 1987). The study found an assumption among professionals

that journalism education could produce only entry-level hires and was not able

to help mid-career or advanced professionals. In 1990, the American Society of

Newspaper Editors reported that only 4% of editors gave journalism school an

“A” grade based upon the quality of their recent hires, whereas half of the editors

did not care whether their new hires had a journalism degree or not (ASNE,

1990). For the skills that editors considered most important – reporting, spelling

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and grammar, and journalism ethics, the editors surveyed rated recent journalism

graduates the lowest. The Jane Pauley Task Force on Mass Communication

Education (Society of Professional Journalists, 1996) reported that TV news

directors were most critical of graduates’ writing abilities, general knowledge, and

unrealistic expectations. Few respondents of their study mentioned that they

were satisfied with graduates’ ability to communicate or their general technical

skills.

On the other hand, some research has examined “the gap” from

journalism educator’s point of view. Some journalism educators noted that the

separation of journalism and mass communication units for their industrial

moorings was defensible, because journalism education has a greater purpose

than just preparing students for entry-level jobs as working journalists (AEJMC

Vision 2000 Task Force, 1994). They pointed out that, because journalism

education must prepare graduates for a variety of media and non-media jobs as

well as for graduate school, journalism educators and professionals can not be

expected to agree on all matters relating to journalism education. Some other

journalism educators joined professional journalists in criticizing journalism

education for distancing itself from the needs of the real world of media industry.

For example, Medsger (1996) warned of journalism education’s increasing

disconnection from journalism, saying that it had drifted too far away from its

practical roots by paying little or no attention to critical matters, such as whether

students are writing well, or whether ethics is being taught.

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Some other studies have explored the gap between the two camps by

examining a variety of both media professionals and educators. For instance,

Dickson and Sellmeyer (1992) found several significant differences between

opinions of journalism and mass communication program administrators and

editors of daily newspapers on 15 of 21 topics regarding what journalism schools

should provide their graduates. The study observed that administrators are

significantly more likely than editors to state that overviews of the mass

communication field, media history, media ethics, communication concepts, and

media law are priorities. The Jane Pauley Task Force on Mass Communication

Education compared the opinions of administrators of college broadcast

programs and TV news directors about the ability of entry-level graduates.

Results show that administrators had a higher mark of their graduates than news

editors had of applicants (Society of Professional Journalists, 1996). In another

broadcast study, Duhe and Zukowski (1997) examined the attitudes of broadcast

educators and professionals toward specific broadcast curricula and how well it

prepared students for first job. Professionals and educators alike ranked most

highly the curricula with the most practical experience in the form of internships

and laboratory classes. But the two groups had different reasons for thinking that

a hands-on curriculum was the most important – professionals stated that it was

because of the experience it offered, while educators said that it was because

such a program produced students whose skills and intellect were balanced,

allowing them to merge higher- and lower-order learning.

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More recently, Dickson and Brandon (2000) surveyed both educators and

professionals of newspaper and broadcast journalism to find out the reasons for

the dissatisfaction among professionals. The results, in line with those of other

studies, suggest that educators tend to value conceptual merits more than

professionals, who tend to believe conceptual courses, such as theory, history,

law, ethics, do little to prepare students for newsroom practice. Professionals

instead perceive skills (such as reporting, online writing) more valuable and

better-prepared students for careers in the media industry. The findings reveal

that a gap does exist between the professional journalists and journalism

educators surveyed in several aspects of journalism education. The gap,

however, is not particularly wide. In general, the results of this study showed that

although there were significant differences between the groups of educator and

professionals, the groups were in overall agreement regarding the relative

importance of the types of media-related courses necessary for graduates

seeking jobs in the fields of newspaper or broadcast journalism. Fee, Russial,

and Autumn’s (2001) study of copy editing skills found that although editors and

instructors generally agreed on how to prepare students for the workplace across

a range of traditional job skills such as critical thinking, word editing and writing

headlines, the instructors routinely rated certain skills significantly higher than the

editors. The gap was largest on skills such as pagination, coaching of writers,

and reporting.

Moving beyond newspaper and broadcast, Lepre and Bleske (2005)

studied magazine journalism educators and magazine editors and discovered a

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wide discrepancy between the qualities editors want in new hires and those

educators believe were important - educators tend to value journalism concepts

and skills, whereas editors are less concerned with specific skills. Instead, editors

care more about a well-rounded education, an enthusiastic attitude, and a

willingness to learn on the job in hiring journalism graduates.

Discrepancy was found also in a recent study, which surveyed journalism

educators and newsroom managers and discovered differing opinions about the

way students are trained in journalism programs (Wenger & Nicholson, 2006).

The study suggests that newsroom managers believe that students are entering

the workforce with barely adequate writing, reporting, interviewing, and ethical

decision-making skills. Journalists and professors surveyed both suggested that

more dialog is needed between the academy and the profession in order to

bridge the gap.

In light of the trend towards convergence, most recently, Pierce and Miller

(2007) surveyed newspaper editors to find out what skills are believed to be most

important for educators to teach future journalists. Compared to the early 1990s,

when the American Society of Newspaper Editors found that most editors

perceived writing, spelling/grammar, and knowledge about journalism ethics to be

the most important skills and experience with computers and computer writing

skills as the least important for new journalists, this study found that computer

skills were high on the list of importance. (However, editors suggest these skills

do not replace the foundations of journalism – the basic skills of writing, spelling,

grammar, and critical thinking remain the most important.) In a Nieman Reports

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article, Aumente (2007) also emphasized the importance of focusing on the

basics of solid reporting and writing skills while also teaching journalism students

new technologies as they emerge. Aumente also advocates that other skills are

needed in modern newsrooms, including the ability to work collaboratively,

because many multimedia projects are produced by teams with diverse skills.

Since the emergence of online journalism in the 1990s, the skills media

professionals need to survive and succeed have shifted with the evolution of

technologies. While the industry undergoes revolutionary changes, are

journalism schools moving in the same direction? Are journalism educators

responding accordingly? Are they teaching the skills and concepts that catch up

to the demands of the industry?

This study attempts to reexamine the discordance, if there still exists,

between the media industry and journalism schools by comparing online

journalism professionals and educators’ perceptions of skills, concepts, and

duties of online newsrooms. Based on previous research, the following research

questions and hypothesis are proposed:

RQ1: What skills are most needed for online journalism?

RQ2: What duties are most common in online journalism?

RQ3: What concepts are most valued for online journalism?

H1: There are differences in the perceptions of online journalism

instructors and online journalists regarding skills, duties, and concepts for online

journalism.

Method

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Samples and procedures

The twin surveys of online journalism course instructors and online

journalists were launched in early 2009. The questionnaires are identical except

that the wording of each was geared toward its own group of subjects. The

composition of the questionnaires is based on a pilot study conducted on North

Carolina online journalists earlier in 2008.

The instructor sample was taken from Online News Association’s member

directory. All the 180 ONA academic members nationwide identified at the time

were included in the survey mailing list. After one pre-contact, three rounds of

email contacts (with one week apart from each other) with survey link included, in

total 101 members responded to the survey, resulting in a response rate of 56%.

The nationwide journalist sample was obtained through a multi-stage procedure.

First, the most recent ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulations) list of daily newspapers

(1,412 as of 2009) was used to draw a 10% random sample using a stratified

sampling technique (very small, small, medium, large, and very large

newspapers in terms of Monday-Friday circulations). The second step was

visiting each of these sampled dailies’ websites, searching for the masthead, and

recording the names and contact information of any online journalists, which is

defined as content creators having one of the following words in their titles:

online, interactive, multimedia, new media, blogger, producer, developer. In order

to make the sample more representative, the third step was making telephone

calls to the newspapers whose Website does not list online journalists. Through

this multi-stage procedure, 151 online journalists were identified and included in

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the survey mailing list. After one pre-contact, the journalists were sent three

rounds of email contacts (with one week apart from each other) with survey link

included. Forty-nine online journalists responded to the survey, resulting in a

response rate of 32%.

Variables and data collection

Data were collected through the twin surveys conducted by Qualtrics online

survey program. The questionnaire consists of four parts. The first asks questions

regarding perceptions of skills (18 items), the second asks about the work duties of the

respondents (24 items), the third asks about journalism concepts (10 items), and the

fourth asks for profile/demographic information, including work titles, age, gender, race,

education level, and others. The survey instrument includes 5-point Likert scales

(interval), rank ordering (ordinal), and categorical questions (nominal).

The unit of analysis is the individual instructor/journalist. A series of t-tests were

conducted using SPSS to find out if there are significant differences between the two

groups’ perceptions on the key concepts, duties, and skills for online journalism.

Results and Discussion

Summary statistics

Table 1 illustrates the respondent profiles of the twin surveys. Among the

101 online journalism instructor respondents, 56% are male; 79% are between

31-59 years old; and 89% are White. In other words, mid-aged White males

dominate online journalism classrooms. This is also the case with online

newsrooms – among the 49 online journalist respondents, 68% are male; 71%

are between 31-59 years old; and 92% are White.

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There was a big gap in the educational attainment of the two groups of

respondents (see Table 1) - 91% of the instructors have at least 17 years of

education (post-graduate), while only 16% percent of the online journalists have

attained that level of education. The majority of the journalists are college

graduates (68%). This is not surprising since journalists are not doing higher

education work and an advanced degree is not a necessary requirement of their

job.

It is worth noting that 8% of the instructors have no professional online

journalism experience. Another interesting observation is 41% of these

newspaper journalists identified themselves as “producer,” instead of the

traditional labels of “reporter” or “editor.”

Table 1 Profile of Respondents1

Instructors
Gender Male 56% 68%
Female 44% 32%
Age 30- 5% 29%
(in year) 31-59 79% 71%
60+ 16% 0%
Race White 89% 92%
Black 4% 0%
Other 7% 9%
Education (12-) High School or less 0% 0%
(in year) (13-15) Some College 3% 16%
(16) 4-yr College Graduate 6% 68%
(17+) Post-Graduate Work 91% 16%
Profession 0 8% 0%
al 1-5 38% 33%
Journalism 6-9 21% 14%
Experienc 10+
30% 55%
e (in year)2
Academic Instructor 18% N/A
Rank Assistant Prof. 28%
Associate Prof. 19%
1
Prof. 14%
Other 21%
Job Title in Editor 54%
Newsroom Reporter N/A 5%
Producer 41%
1
Total of percentage not always equal to 100% due to rounding error;
2
For the instructor group, the questionnaire asked specifically for “online” journalism
experience.

What skills are most needed for online journalism?

Table 2 shows the top 10 skills that instructors and journalists rated most needed

for online newsrooms. The two groups agree on seven skills as most important, which are

grammar and style, news judgment, writing summary content for the Web, Web usability,

blogging tools, video reporting and/or editing, and experience with a content

management system. Instructors and journalists both rated basic journalism skills –

grammar and style, news judgment – as the foremost important among all. This indicates

that the traditional skills that have always comprised the foundation of journalism

practice remain important even among the emergence of new skills and duties. It is also

unusual to note that the historical gap between the different levels of importance that

journalists and educators ascribe to practical traditional skills such as spelling and

grammar may be fading. This is consistent with some previous research (e.g., Pierce &

Miller, 2007), which found that traditional backbone skills remain important in online

journalism.

As for the skills about which the two groups disagree, Photoshop (6th), web layout

and/or user interface design (8th), HTML (9th) are among the top 10 rated by the

professionals, whereas the educators’ top 10 list includes audio reporting and/or editing

(6th), Soundslides (9th), and search engine optimization (10th).

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Table 2 Most Needed Skills

Instructors Mean J
o
N = 101
u
r
n
al
is
t
Skill s
s M
e
a
n
N
=
4
9
1 Grammar and style 4.44 News Judgment 4.07

2 News Judgment 4.32 Grammar and style 4.02

Writing summary content 4.14 My company’s content 4


3 for the Web (blurbs, management system
headlines, captions,
labels)
Web Usability 3.51 Writing summary content 3.98
4 for the Web (blurbs,
headlines, captions, labels)
Blogging tools 3.51 Web Usability 3.93
5
(Wordpress, etc.)
Audio reporting and/or 3.4 Photoshop 3.44
6
editing
Video reporting and/or 3.37 Blogging tools (Wordpress, 3.34
7
editing etc.)
My company’s content 3.15 Web layout and/or user 3.2
8
management system interface design
9 Soundslides 3.09 HTML 3.2

Search engine 2.94 Video reporting and/or 3.17


10
optimization editing
Survey question for instructors: “Please tell us the proficiency level you think your students should
have for each of these skills if they work for online newsrooms”
Survey Question for Journalists: “Please tell us the proficiency level you have for each of these
skills.”

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5-point forced choice scale: 1 = none, 2 = basic, 3 = intermediate, 4 = advance, 5 = expert

What duties are most common in online journalism?

Table 3 shows the top 10 duties that instructors and journalists ranked as the most

common in online newsrooms. Compared to skills, instructors and journalists are quite

split in their perceived frequency of the duties on this list. Only five duties are on both

groups' list of top 10 most common duties. The five duties on which both the educators

and journalists agree are reporting and writing original stories, story

combining/shortening, writing or editing scripts, photo/image editing, and project

management. Moreover, even among these five duties, the rankings are quite

inconsistent. For example, while the instructors thought “reporting and writing original

stories” is the top duty performed by online journalists, the professionals ranked it only

9th.

Multimedia authoring, editing text for content, writing headlines or blurbs,

managing user-generated content, and editing for grammar or style are among the top 10

duties that instructors thought their students would perform the most often when they

work in online newsrooms in the near future. However, the professionals did not seem to

be doing so. Instead, they indicated that they were actually working on blogging, photo

shooting, user interface design, video production, and staff organization/administration

more often. This suggests some level of unfamiliarity with real newsroom routines

among the instructors. As noted earlier, 8% of the instructors surveyed have no online

newsroom experience. This may partially explain the large discrepancy with regard to

most common duties as perceived by professionals and educators. Oddly enough, while

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professional journalists have long thought that educators spent too little time on skills,

today's online journalists have duties that are more likely to be conceptual – such as

project management and staff organization/administration – than their academic

counterparts might believe.

Table 3 Most Performed Duties

Instructors Mean J
o
N = 101
u
r
n
al
is
t
Dutie s
s M
e
a
n
N
=
4
9
Reporting and writing 2.32 Writing or editing scripts 3.33
1
original stories
Story 4.45 Project management 4
2
combining/shortening
3 Writing or editing scripts 5.04 Blogging 4.3

4 Multimedia authoring 5.13 Photo shooting 4.33

5 Editing text for content 5.15 User interface design 4.33

Writing headlines or 5.21 Video production 4.35


6
blurbs
Managing user- 5.43 Staff 4.61
7
generated content organization/administration
Editing for grammar or 5.67 Story 4.71
8
style combining/shortening
Photo/image editing 5.67 Reporting and writing 4.86
9
original stories

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10 Project management 5.7 Photo/image editing 4.95

Survey question for instructors: “Select and rank the top 10 duties you think your students will
perform the most often during the first year of their professional careers.”
Survey Question for Journalists: “Select and rank the top 10 duties you spent your work time on.”
10-point forced choice scale: 1 = most important, 2 = second most important…

What concepts are most valued for online journalism?

Table 4 shows how instructors and journalists ranked the value placed on various

concepts in online newsrooms. Educators and journalists both ranked “online community

management” the least important concept for online newsrooms among all the 10

presented in the questionnaires. The professional ranked "multitasking" as the most

valuable concept, but instructors ranked it 7th. On the other side, educators said they

thought the most important concept for their students to have in online newsrooms is

“news judgment (5th by journalists).”

Both groups rank the “ability to work under pressure” and “ability to learn new

technologies" as two of their respective five most valued concepts in online newsrooms.

The professionals seemed to value “attention to detail” more that the educators, whereas

the educators seemed to value “team work/collaboration” and “interpersonal

communication” more than the professionals. Of all the concepts on the list, perhaps one

of the most difficult to simulate in the topically focused environment of many journalism

classes is "multitasking" – and it's the concept on which the two groups differ the most. It

seems one of the best ways for journalism students to prepare for working in the field of

journalism may not be any single class they take, but their ability to manage many classes

at once.

Table 4 Most Valued Concepts


1
Instructors Mean J
o
N = 101
u
r
n
al
is
t
Concep s
ts M
e
a
n
N
=
4
9
1 News judgment 2.92 Multitasking 4.14

Ability to work under 4.55 Ability to learn new 4.49


2
time pressure technologies
Team 4.7 Attention to detail 4.56
3
work/collaboration
Interpersonal 4.85 Ability to work under time 4.83
4
communication pressure
Ability to learn new 5.04 News judgment 5.15
5
technologies
6 Attention to detail 5.16 Team work/collaboration 5.15

7 Multitasking 5.49 Web usability 5.29

Awareness of new 5.92 Interpersonal 5.91


8
technologies communication
Web usability 7.25 Awareness of new 6.61
9
technologies
Online community 7.77 Online community 6.86
10
management management
Survey question for instructors: “Rank the concepts in the order in which you think they are
important to your students’ future job in online newsrooms.”
Survey Question for Journalists: “Rank the concepts in the order in which they are important to
your job.”
10-point forced choice scale: 1 = most important…10 = least important

Tests of difference

1
Based on the results of previous research, this study proposed a general

hypothesis that there are differences in the perceptions of online journalism

instructors and online journalists regarding the skills, duties, and concepts for

online journalism. A series of t-tests were conducted to explore the statistical

differences between the journalists and the instructors.

As Table 5 illustrates, significant differences exist in seven of the 18 skill

items. These include web usability, Flash, grammar and style, audio reporting

and/or editing, HTML, Photoshop, and content management systems. Overall,

the journalists are most significantly higher (mostly at the 0.01 level) in their level

of proficiency in Web usability, HTML, Photoshop, and “my company’s content

management system." On the other hand, instructors seem to place more weight

on Flash, grammar and style, audio reporting and/or editing.

Table 5 Comparison of Skill Level


Instructors Journalist
Skills Mean s Mean t p
N = 101 N = 49
News Judgment 4.32 4.07 1.47 0.14

Web Usability 3.51 3.93 -2.31 0.02*

Dreamweaver 2.27 2.37 -0.48 0.63

Information graphics design 2.66 2.61 0.24 0.82

Web layout and/or user interface 2.82 3.20 -1.80 0.08


design
Flash 2.30 1.85 2.94 <0.01**

SQL 1.76 1.71 0.28 0.78

Search engine optimization 2.94 2.95 -0.08 0.94

Blogging tools (Wordpress, etc.) 3.51 3.34 0.842 0.40

Computer programming skills (e.g. 1.83 1.90 -0.43 0.67


PHP, JavaScript, Python, ASP, Ajax)
2
Grammar and style 4.44 4.02 2.95 <0.01**

Writing summary content for the 4.14 3.98 1.00 0.32


Web (blurbs, headlines, captions,
labels)
Audio reporting and/or editing 3.40 2.80 3.25 <0.01**

Video reporting and/or editing 3.37 3.17 1.17 0.25

HTML 2.66 3.20 -2.88 0.01**

Photoshop 2.91 3.44 -2.85 0.01**

Soundslides 3.09 2.65 1.86 0.07

My company’s content management 3.15 4.00 -4.14 <0.01**


system
Survey question for instructors: “Please tell us the proficiency level you think your students should
have for each of these skills if they work for online newsrooms”
Survey Question for Journalists: “Please tell us the proficiency level you have for each of these
skills.”
5-point forced choice scale: 1 = none, 2 = basic, 3 = intermediate, 4 = advance, 5 = expert
* significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).
** significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).

As for duties, as Table 6 illustrates, significant differences exist in four of

the duties - staff organization/administration, video production,

information/graphic design, and user interface design. On average, it seems in

reality the journalists are working on these duties more often than the instructors

expect.

Table 6 Comparison of Duties


Instructors Journalist
Duties Mean s Mean t p
N = 101 N = 49
Reporting and writing original stories 2.32 4.86 -1.67 0.14

Multimedia authoring 5.13 6.14 -1.17 0.25

Staff organization/administration 9.00 4.61 5.78 <0.01**

Project management 5.70 4.00 1.99 0.05

Working on business issues 8.14 5.88 1.91 0.07


2
Analyzing site usage metrics 7.53 6.55 1.09 0.28

Database design/administration 7.00 5.15 1.44 0.17

Blogging 5.74 4.30 1.67 0.10

Email newsletter production 6.82 6.33 0.45 0.66

Writing or editing scripts 5.04 3.33 1.19 0.24

Editing text for content 5.15 5.32 -0.24 0.81

Managing user-generated content 5.43 5.78 -0.44 0.66

Editing for grammar or style 5.67 5.27 0.49 0.63

Writing headlines or blurbs 5.21 5.22 -0.01 0.99

Developing and managing 7.67 5.50 1.71 0.10


relationships with third-party content
providers
Training or teaching other staff 6.75 6.32 0.50 0.62
members in new skills or concepts
Story combining/shortening 4.45 4.71 -0.22 0.83

Photo/image editing 5.67 4.95 1.06 0.29

Photo shooting 5.91 4.33 1.00 0.32

Audio production 6.02 6.71 -0.82 0.42

Video production 5.74 4.35 2.18 0.03*

Information/graphic design 7.50 5.29 2.60 0.02*

User interface design 7.57 4.33 2.57 0.02*

Other duties 7.70 5.43 1.92 0.07

Survey question for instructors: “Select and rank the top 10 duties you think your students will
perform the most often during the first year of their professional careers.”
Survey Question for Journalists: “Select and rank the top 10 duties you spent your work time on.”
10-point forced choice scale: 1 = most important, 2 = second most important…
* significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).
** significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).

Table 7 shows the significant differences existing in four of the 10

concepts -- web usability, interpersonal communication, multitasking, and news

judgment. The journalists seem to value multitasking and Web usability more

2
than the instructors value those concepts. Instructors seem to emphasize

interpersonal communication and news judgment more than the professionals.

This implies that the professionals focus more than the instructors on practical

matters.

Table 7 Comparison of Concepts


Instructors Journalist
Concepts Mean s Mean t p
N = 101 N = 49
Attention to detail 5.16 4.56 1.42 0.26

Online community management 7.77 6.86 1.52 0.14

Ability to work under time 4.55 4.83 -0.55 0.58


pressure
Interpersonal communication 4.85 5.91 -2.08 0.04*

Multitasking 5.49 4.14 2.37 0.02*

Team work/collaboration 4.70 5.15 -0.90 0.37

Ability to learn new technologies 5.04 4.49 1.07 0.29

Awareness of new technologies 5.92 6.61 -1.22 0.23

News judgment 2.92 5.15 -3.45 <0.01**

Web usability 7.25 5.29 3.57 <0.01**

Survey question for instructors: “Rank the concepts in the order in which you think they are
important to your students’ future job in online newsrooms.”
Survey Question for Journalists: “Rank the concepts in the order in which they are important to
your job.”
10-point forced choice scale: 1 = most important…10 = least important
* significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).
** significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).

This study found evidence of significant differences between professional

journalists’ and journalism educators’ perceptions on the key skills, duties, and concepts

for online journalism. Hypothesis 1 is supported.

2
The results of this study suggest that journalism schools need to do more to teach

in classes visual and management elements of online journalism: Web usability, HTML,

Photoshop, staff organization, video production, user interface design,

information/graphic design.

Conclusion, Limitation and Future Research

This study offers updated insights into the much-debated gap between journalism

education and practice as it revisits the issue in the online journalism context. To our best

knowledge, this study is by far the very first quantitative, empirical exploration

comparing online journalism education with practice. In line with previous research, this

study finds evidence of the “gap” – there are significant differences in the perceptions of

online journalists and online journalism educators regarding key skills, duties, and

concepts for online journalism.

An additional finding of this study is that traditional backbone skills, such as news

judgment and grammar and style, remain important in online journalism, as agreed by the

professionals and educators. Another additional finding is, while professional journalists

have long thought that educators spent too little time on skills, ironically, today's online

journalists have duties that are more likely to be conceptual – such as project

management and staff organization/administration – than their academic counterparts

might believe.

One major strength of this study is that it made every effort, as described in the

method section, to reach a representative sample of online journalists and educators.

Considered that the usual Internet survey response rate is 1% -30% (Wimmer &

Dominick, 2005), this study should be deemed highly successful in generating solid, rich

2
data and representative, meaningful results, given its excellent response rates of 32% and

56% for the twin surveys respectively.

This study examined only daily newspaper subjects as representatives of online

journalists. Future research may expand the journalist sample to multiple media types.

The online staffs of broadcast or online-only news outlets may regard the key skills,

duties and concepts differently. On the educator’s side, we are not so sure about the

extent to which ONA academic members represent the online journalism instructor

population, although from the respondents’ profile, we do not see any reason to suspect

sampling bias. These reservations should be taken into account when assessing the results

of this study and developing future research. If time and resource permit, a multi-stage

procedure (for example, starting from JMC program directory, and then online journalism

courses in each program, and then instructors for each course) to search for a complete

list of online journalism instructors may be desirable.

As the online journalism field continues to evolve, it is important for future

research to continue to study how journalism educators may keep up with the new world

of journalism and prepare their students to enter the ever-changing workforce. The line of

inquiry comparing what’s needed in the newsrooms as perceived by media professionals

and what’s taught in the classrooms as reported by instructors provides many

opportunities for new exploration.

These suggestions in combination with the results of the twin surveys in

the current study suggest that the context of online journalism offers a rich

opportunity to expand our understanding of the connection or disconnection

2
between journalism education and practice. The authors hope such

understanding will be helpful in bridging the much-debated “gap” in the new era.

2
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