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%).
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%).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.