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Skills for Digital Times – by Fiona Davidson

Why the Modern Apprenticeship in Digital Journalism is vital – by Fiona Davidson

Journalists should move with the times and take advantage of the new opportunities presented by digital media rather than moaning about the demise of the industry.

Rumours of the journalism industry dying are grossly exaggerated. Digital times are exciting times.While print or “dead tree” sales decline (with a few exceptions), access to digital media is accelerating rapidly. Just look at the latest annual reports of the mainstream media.

The ever-expanding number and type of digital platforms create new opportunities for journalists and for journalism – opportunities to provide for more and more niche and specialised markets, and opportunities to reach a wider, more diverse, and previously unreachable audience.

The so-called mainstream media has a tremendous advantage being a known and trusted brand and a household name with a ready-made readership or audience. But it would be highly dangerous not to fight to stay ahead of the game and risk being overtaken by the many new kids in town.

That’s why the NUJ-backed modern apprenticeship in digital journalism is so relevant. On the one hand it’s a step back to the traditional apprenticeship, with newcomers to the trade learning on the job. This used to be the usual route into journalism before degrees in journalism and media studies became fashionable. On the other hand it is providing quality training to our journalists of the future in traditional skills such as writing, law, ethics and regulation for journalists, together with new skills to allow them to turn their hand to any digital platform equipping them for the ever-evolving newsroom.

NUJ Scotland has always taken an active in making sure members can train, retrain and develop their skills. The digital age is by no means the first time the industry has had to adapt and evolve. And it won’t be the last. That’s why we linked up with Skills Development Scotland and Creative Skillset to develop the modern apprenticeship in digital journalism, providing trainee journalists with key skills to equip them to work in the newsroom of the future.

As NUJ Scotland’s digital journalism liaison officer, I provide an important link between media employers, trainee journalists and colleges involved in this new modern apprenticeship. The cost of college training is met by Skills Development Scotland, while the employer pays the apprentice’s wages.

Training can be delivered via day release and we are investigating alternative methods, such as a combination of online training and classroom sessions for those who cannot attend day-release classes. The objective is to extend the modern apprenticeship programme from the Scottish Borders to Orkney and Shetland, covering everywhere else in between.

I see it as a win-win situation. The programme allows employers to recruit local journalists with local knowledge who will receive quality training, providing them with the latest skills to meet the needs of the modern newsroom. New blood is injected into newsrooms, reducing the burden, and consequent stress levels, on existing staff. The skills of the workforce are enhanced and apprentices gain quality training in a newsroom environment.

I believe it is important to be alert to the short and long-term needs of the industry by providing training for new, up-and-coming journalists but also putting on training for experienced journalists to update their skills. When I say journalists, I mean all members of the union, including freelances.

The apprenticeship programme also fits in well with the recent Wood Commission report “Education Working For All”, the final report of the Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce to the Scottish Government, which called for closer links between schools, colleges, universities and industry. The report recognised the leadership of the NUJ in driving the modern apprenticeship in digital journalism.

We are already ahead of the game with a pilot project in the Highlands and Islands, training high school pupils in journalism skills, which is to be extended to the central belt. The modern apprenticeship programme provides a route into journalism for aspiring journalists identified during the schools projects.

Journalism is not dying it’s evolving. There is a role for digital journalists in newspapers, TV stations, radio, public relations, the public sector, the private sector, charities and trade unions. If you don’t want to be left behind by the opposition, invest in your people.

Fiona Davidson helped launch the pilot project as digital journalism liaison officer with NUJ Scotland on a fixed-term freelance basis funded by SDS. She is also a qualified solicitor and was previously an NUJ assistant organiser and a freelance journalist specialising in employment tribunals.

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