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Define the talent you need

It's critically important to define -- with the right level of specificity -- the roles and skills you need.

Today’s newsrooms (and their colleagues across the whole enterprise) must have the skills and capabilities to:

  1. Serve targeted audiences with targeted content
  2. Publish on the platforms used by your targeted audiences
  3. Produce and publish continuously to match your audiences’ lives
  4. Funnel occasional users to habitual and paying loyalists
  5. Diversify and grow the ways you earn revenue from the audiences you build
  6. Partner to expand your capacity and capabilities at lower and more flexible cost
  7. Drive audience growth and profitability from a “mini-publisher” perspective

Getting there particularly depends on the following key jobs or roles:

  • Reporter
  • Editor as mini publisher
  • Digital producer
  • Audience developer
  • Visual producer
  • Platform owner
  • Developer/coder

“Job” here means a full-time job; “role” means the tasks someone might perform as part of a larger job. For example, in smaller newsrooms, a front-line editor (a job) might include duties related to the role of platform owner. Here’s a guide contrasting traditional jobs with variations on role combinations for today’s newsrooms:

Traditional functional position Roles and combo roles for audience-focused continuous digital first publishing
Reporter •  reporter/producer/audience developer (“one-person workflow” capable)

•  audience team member (for collective audience understanding and collaborative audience development ; see Table Stake #1)

Editor •  producer/editor/audience developer

•  digital story editor (all elements of the story, not just text)

•  digital hub “real time” producer/audience developer

•  digital hub shift editor/manager

Digital producer •  story enhancer (applying advanced skills to select stories)

•  production skills developer and coach

•  story form creator (working with audience teams and producer)

Photographer, videographer or graphics designer •  visuals producer/editor/audience developer

•  visuals skills developer and coach

•  visual story form developer (working with audience teams, producers and tech developers)

Audience developer •  audience development skills developer and coach

•  audience development opportunity identifier

•  audience development innovation/experimentation leader

•  platform owner (see Table Stake #2)

Tech developer •  story form developer (working with audience teams and producer)

•  technology awareness coach and advisor (e.g., primers, cautions on breaking and hacking)

•  audience experience watchdog (e.g. load times, page/screen rendering)

And, by way of example, here are what the four Table Stakes teams defined as requirements for a fully skilled reporter in a 21st century newsroom:

Basic Journalistic Values/Practices

  • Fairness, accuracy, verification, spelling, style, grammar, clarity, brevity, speed
  • Eyes/ears to the community and target audiences
  • Upholds journalism values
  • Nose for sniffing out big story/trends
  • Attacks stories/problems with goal for positive change
  • Basic computer skills
  • Other: _____________________

(NOTE: ‘other’ is included to allow for unique situations that vary by newsroom as well as evolution/change in needed skills, etc.)

Basic Coverage Skills

In Real Life:

  • Observing, listening, cultivating and verifying sources, researching, interviewing
  • Can report on range of subject matter (not overly narrow)
  • Understands community and target audiences as a whole and how coverage plan/effort serves it
  • Reports on all perspectives in the community to ensure diverse and inclusive points of view
  • Other: _____________________


  • Awareness of what other media are doing
  • Understands we are not only players in the game and:
    • Avoids unproductive competition for scoops
    • Aggregates/curates/shares the work of other players
  • Understands how to use social media as a reporting tool for sourcing, curating and distribution, including how to mine, verify and incorporate social reporting
  • Knows what is trending – on our platforms and others’ platforms
  • Proactively/routinely considers and uses aggregation/curation as reporting approach
  • Other: _____________________

Audience Engagement Skills

  • Understands and can accurately describe the target audience(s) we seek to engage with coverage
  • Routinely understands/proposes coverage approaches/angles – from audience point of view – regarding what audience wants/needs and what matters to audience
  • Places premium on platform optimization by delivering content when (time of day), where (platforms/sites/devices), and how (size/length/format/etc.) audience wants it
  • Adept at routinely ensuring content is shareable, findable and explore-able through:
    • SEO friendly headlines
    • Including links within body of content
    • “Most viewed” lists
    • Using hashtags
    • Live chats
    • Blogging
    • Notifications
    • Pushing posts from one platform to others
    • Other: _______________
  • Blogs the beat: real-time postings to guide conversations and engagement with readers/users
  • Quickly and insightfully shares what is trending with the target audience
  • Can quickly and effectively aggregate/curate and share with audiences on appropriate platforms
  • Adept at quickly creating/posting content responsive to buzz worthy/key events (for example, can live-Tweet)
    • Recognizes the most interesting and resonant aspects of a story that will connect with our audience
    • Routinely invites/encourages community/audience to create and respond to content including ‘talking with readers/users’ and not pontificating
    • Adept at routinely posting/monitoring/responding to content on platforms used by target audiences, such as:
    • Facebook
    • Twitter
    • LinkedIn
    • Reddit
    • Instagram
    • Snapchat
    • Other: ____________
  • Has a distinctive, effective voice
  • Other: _____________________

Story Crafting Skills

  • Adept at choosing/pitching the stories our enterprise ought to ‘own’
  • Uses calendar/events schedule as part of coverage plan and pitches
  • Routinely considers/suggests how stories can be told in different ways throughout the time the story is being reported (before, during, after)
  • Routinely uses best practices/forms/templates for story telling approaches – ones with proven track record of results
  • Routinely uses at least 2 or more elements (text, photo, audio, etc.) and adept at knowing when/why/what is ‘best’ of the media used: video vs audio vs text vs photo, etc.
  • Adept at gallery creation
  • Monitors both story developments as well as performance of story and
    • Keeps others informed
    • Updates when/where/how it makes most sense (including fresh content)/visuals/etc. as well as cross links to original and/or earlier updates)
  • If story is ‘major,’ either on its own or with timely help from others, complements story telling with an array of photography, informational graphics, video, audio and/or data support
  • Writing style varies appropriately to platform based on best practices
  • Keen eye for producing authoritative and relevant content unique for target audience and tailored to appropriate platform
  • Ensures digital assets customized to the platform
  • Adept at:
    • Taking (and doing basic edit for different platforms, e.g. mobile) photos on smart phone and posting to social media, embedding in blog post/story or sending to photo desk
    • Taking (and doing basic edit for different platforms) videos on smartphone and posting to social media, embedding in blog post/story, sending to video desk
    • Capturing audio on smartphone and posting to social media, embedding in blog post/story or sending to desk
    • Adding documents to story
  • Other: _______________________

Data/analytics skills

  • Always checks/updates the budget/release schedule to ensure others have current and accurate view
  • Can do simple A/B testing, e.g. of headlines
  • Tags content
  • Archives all content into digital asset management system for future use
  • Regularly monitors available analytics for patterns of what’s working/what’s not working with audiences in terms of story, story forms/templates, media type (photo, video, audio, text, etc.) platform optimization, promotion, etc.
  • Regularly views and considers basic analytics of stories with an understanding of sources of traffic, readers’ usage patterns, engagement with story and time of day reading
  • Uses lessons learned from analytics in pitches/proposals as well as regular team reviews of audience/coverage plans
  • Always on top of what’s trending on:
    • Our platforms/sites
    • Other’s platforms/sites
  • Other: ___________________

Collaboration & Learning Skills

  • Knows and timely communicates when:
    • Can do him/herself
    • Can do but wants someone to check
    • Needs help from others
  • Has plan in place to grow/develop specific skills and proactively using this plan
  • Regularly takes initiative and personal responsibility for using learning tools available on our enterprise learning platform as well as the Web
  • Has interpersonal skills required for effective collaboration and learning
  • Regularly participates in and contributes to reviews of best practices, what’s working/what’s not
  • If story – whether routine or ‘major’ – will perform better with contributions by others who have more specialized skills, engages those folks at the beginning, not end
  • Regularly participates in and contributes to team and, when needed, newsroom wide performance reviews (including with biz side)
  • Other: _______________________

Ingrained habits, attitudes, ‘will’, hopes/fears, and mindset

  • Believes in providing targeted content to targeted audiences when, where and how the audience wants/needs
  • Driven to cover things that make a difference to our audience’s lives – not institutions
  • Knows the difference between good traffic and not good traffic
  • Thinks/acts/learns what is platform optimal and is not ‘platform agnostic’
  • Driven to find and connect with the audience vs. believing audience will find content
  • Always on deadline vs. focused on end of day print deadlines
  • Story centric not text centric
  • Releases content when and as audience wants/needs versus print schedule
  • Seeks out skill development versus ‘waits around to be trained’
  • Works hard and collaboratively with biz side to create and monetize valuable audiences versus persists in church/state divides
  • Other: _________________________


  • Knows what’s legal and not legal to use
  • Basic competency with current CMS including how to transfer assets between and among different systems as well as workarounds needed to serve and grow audiences
  • Regularly participates in and contributes to review of performance against team’s (and newsroom’s) value/cost strategy for content
  • Other: _______________________

Please note the inclusion of “other” in each section. Given the pace of technological, demographic, economic and other forces, your newsroom must ask – now and periodically moving forward – if any additional skills, behaviors, beliefs, attitudes or working relationships are required for success.

The teams for Minneapolis, Miami, Dallas and Philadelphia – having themselves specified what’s required of a fully skilled reporter – also remarked that this job description is daunting. And you may react similarly after reading through it the first time. Look at it a second time and note that much of what’s needed for coverage skills as well as collaboration, learning, habits and attitudes are either basic to journalism or basic to curiosity and learning. The meat of what’s different relates to audience engagement, data and analytics and story crafting in the virtual space of a digitally mediated world. And none of those specifics should surprise you: journalists and others have discussed them for nearly a decade now.

Nor do you have to demand that reporters tackle the full list immediately. You can challenge folks to master these in waves. Philadelphia chose to move first on a range of audience engagement and data and analytic skills. The other three newsrooms did so as well. (See below for Philadelphia’s digital skills survey and related assessment).

Many other jobs/roles matter to success as well. Here’s a list the four teams identified:

  • Aggregation editor
  • Data journalist
  • Photo/video journalists
  • Interactive/graphics
  • Web designers
  • Home page editor
  • Newsroom analysts
  • Social media editor
  • Events planner/coordinator
  • Community engagement specialist
  • Technology navigator/what’s next role
  • Partnership manager
  • Audience R&D/consumer insights
  • Liaison to biz side
  • Newsroom Strategist
  • Data scientist
  • Data warehouse manager/liaison
  • Talent Leader
  • Technology Architect
  • Innovation Leader
  • Managing Editor
  • Executive Editor

You can and should describe what’s required for any of these in ways that are as specific and detailed as the fully skilled reporter.