10.4185/RLCS-2018-1268en | ISSN 1138 - 5820 | RLCS, 73-2018 | |
[Funded] [Research] 
Updated assessment of the competencies required from Spanish journalists in the professional workplace
Contents: 1. Introduction. 2. Objectives. 3. Methods. 3.1.1. Sample and data collection instruments. 3.1.2. Procedure. 4. Results. 4.1. Disciplinary knowledge. 4.2. Professional competencies. 4.2 Academic competencies. 4.4. Other specific competencies. 5. Discussion and conclusions. 6. Notes. 6. References.
Translation by CA Martínez-Arcos
The speed of the changes taking place in communication tools, processes, and structures in the knowledge society (Drucker, 1969) represents a challenge for universities offering degrees in journalism since, as a result of these changes, the knowledge, abilities and competencies that professionals need also have changed and they are expected to continue evolving. This affects the approach of educational projects that aim to offer an education of excellence for future journalists. The subject of professional competencies in the field of communication also affects teaching and therefore several research studies have focused on the competencies of teachers (Pérez Curiel, 2005), especially in view of the challenges posed by the continuous change related to technology and the transformation of the higher education system.
Faced with these changes, the media ecosystem (Deuze, 2006) requires journalists to be prepared to understand the communicative convergence and to adapt to the changes faced by the media in the areas of technology, content and business (Díaz Noci, 2010).
The debate about the crisis of journalism tends to emphasise the changes generated by the use of information and communication technologies (Baptist & Alba, 1997; Cabero, 1998), which have altered the work routines of journalists in newsrooms around the world and have conditioned “completely the way in which information is generated and consumed, changing, partly, the traditional paradigm of communication (sender, receiver, message, channel and feedback)” (Turmo & Lassa, 2016: 154).”
As Salaverría and Negredo (2008) point out, this context of change leads to reflection and discussion on the redefinition of the journalistic profession. This means that we should not consider the Internet as just another platform or channel to be added to the existing media, but as the foundational element of a new era of journalism. On the other hand, the debate extends to a teaching model that universities must offer for the degree in journalism, facing the broad vs. deep dichotomy. In the process of adaptation to the media environment and the incorporation of digital competencies, some journalism schools have placed emphasis on a “wide” teaching model rather than on the deepening of the topics, as Goodman and Steyn (2017) have pointed out.
At the corporate level, the growing internationalisation of the economy requires new approaches in the organisation of communication companies and specific competencies that are inherent to the current professional profile of the versatile journalist (Reflex, 2007; Scolari, 2010; González Molina & Ortells Badenes, 2012). In this sense, it is necessary that professionals to possess generic competencies that allow them to adapt to changes, innovate and take critical positions. Being aware of this situation is essential, since the function of journalism itself is also under review (Marques-Hayasaki, Roca-Cuberes & Singla, 2016).
According to the purpose of the university, students, as future professionals, find in this space the perfect environment to develop skills and competencies that will be key for the exercise of their profession and will affect directly their professional insertion and promotion in the sector in which they choose to graduate (Martín Bernal, 2012). In this sense, competency-based learning is the model that guides the structuring of the curricula (Medina Serrano & García Cabrera, 2005) and has been implemented by the universities of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) (Díaz Barriga, 2006), of which Spain is part.
In the Spanish university system, degrees in communication have traditionally been devoted to Journalism, Audiovisual Communication and Advertising and Public Relations. Recently, new degrees in Digital Communication and Multimedia communication have been created, largely as a result of a reformulation of teaching in response to the changes and needs of today’s job market. As mentioned by Mensing (2017: 232), some of the curricula implemented in recent years, in line with a global trend, emphasise students’ mastery of content production, while others are aimed at the learning of new competencies in data journalism, mobile devices and design and data visualisation. Some programmes are ultimately focused on aspects of community journalism: teaching ways and strategies to create, share, build discourses and persuade, further blurring the line between journalism and strategic communications.
This research considers as key the word ‘competency’. To delve into the aforementioned changes in the field of communication and to understand the objectives of this study, it is important to try to clarify the definition of this term. Although there is no unified definition of the concept of competence - which replaced the term ‘qualification’ in the job market (Álvarez, Pérez & Suárez, 2008)- there is wide literature offering proposals to approach it.
Some of the contributions more widely disseminated on the definition are:
The definition of competence, therefore, is large and complex and covers the appropriation, mental articulation and application of knowledge, skills, values and attitudes in order to understand, interpret and solve concrete problems. In the case that concerns us, that of journalism professionals, some examples would be: develop a new multimedia program, develop a graphic or publishing project to reformulate a printed newspaper, and to develop an academic research that makes a social contribution on aspects of communication, among others. In the context of university education, competencies refer to what can be developed through teaching-learning methods. These are reflected in four levels -know, know-how, know how to think and know how to be- and are oriented to comprehensive education and preparation for the exercise of professional activities.
For the degree in journalism, the competencies considered in the curricula of Spanish universities are based on the white paper on communication degrees  published by the National Agency for Quality Assessment and Accreditation (ANECA) of Spain. The questionnaire applied in this research is based, precisely, on the set of competencies described in this regulatory document.
The white book classifies four competency levels and distributes them in the following way: disciplinary knowledge (13 items), professional competencies (16 items), academic competencies (8 items) and other specific competencies (3 items), making up a total of 40 items (ANECA, 2004: 192-221). The set aims to ensure the theoretical, technical and cultural training of graduates in journalism and, transversely, the development of students as integral social being.
Taking into account that the proposal put forward by ANECA –with the participation of 40 universities Spanish- was published in 2004, it seems appropriate to update it thirteen years later in line with the transformations of the market and the teaching system.
According to the framework of this project, which considers that professionals increasingly perform multiple functions that are not strictly considered in traditional journalism profiles, our questionnaire offers respondents the possibility to describe their current occupation by selecting up to two of the following choices: journalism, advertising, public relations, audiovisual communication, interactive digital communication, and others.
Having set the framework and bases of this research, this article follows the line of previous studies on professional competencies in journalism (López, 2002; Scolari, 2008; Casero-Ripollés, 2013), new professional profiles in field of journalism (Marques-Hayasaki, 2016) and academic education in journalism (Goodman & Steyn, 2017). In addition, the article also intends to contribute to the reflection on competency-based university teaching (Rué, 2008).
The overall objective of this study is to identify the most important competencies for the professional exercise of journalism in the context of today’s job market. This definition incorporates a scale of the importance of the set of competencies under study and is based on the point of view of the active professionals and future professionals (students) of journalism who participated in the study.
The general objective is broken down into three specific objectives:
SO1. Investigate the perceptions on disciplinary, professional, academic and specific competencies required for the professional exercise of journalism.
SO2. Detect the most and least valued disciplinary, professional, academic and specific competencies for the professional exercise of journalism based on the opinions of the surveyed and interviewed participants.
SO3. Update the scale to assess the disciplinary, professional, academic and specific competencies that Spanish professionals and future professionals (students) of journalism considered important for the exercise of the profession.
This study follows a quantitative approach based on the survey technique (Cea D’Ancona, 2001). The online questionnaire, created with Google Forms, was applied to a sample defined by the guiding research objectives and was composed of closed questions. This technique has allowed us to obtain an adequate volume of information in a relatively short time and also favoured the standardisation of data and comparability of responses, as well as allowing the generalisation of the obtained information.
The questionnaire has unified and adapted the list of knowledge and competencies proposed by the ANECA for the three areas: Audiovisual Communication, Journalism, and Advertising and Public Relations. This set took into consideration the professional competencies selected in recent articles on professional profiles and competencies in journalism (Marques-Hayasaki, Roca-Cuberes & Singla, 2016) and in advertising and public relations (Sánchez-Sánchez, Fernández Cavia & Roca-Cuberes, 2017). This decision is based on the desire to facilitate the formulation of each competence –which is long and complex in the aforementioned white paper- and adapt the length of the questionnaire to facilitate response and avoid misunderstanding caused by the similar description of some items.
Thus, the following table presents the 61 items included in the applied questionnaire and distributed in four categories: disciplinary knowledge (19), professional competencies (20), academic competencies (10) and other specific competencies (12):
Source: Authors’ own creation.
The questionnaire followed the five stages of survey-based research: 1) formulation of objectives, 2) preparation of data collection instrument and sample planning, 3) data collection, 4) coding of questions and debugging in SPSS, and 5) analysis and interpretation of collected data (Hernández Sampieri et al., 2003) with the same software.
For the triangulation of data we carried out in-depth interviews with a sample of four professionals who belong to the field of journalism and communication and carry out such activities as a multimedia editor, head of communication, communication council member and university professor of journalism. The interviews were conducted through an online confidential questionnaire (see annex 1).
The results of the study are detailed in the next section, unifying the quantitative and qualitative analyses (survey and interviews, respectively).
3.1.1. Data collection instruments and sample
The sample used in this study is composed of 103 participants who answered the questionnaire created with Google Forms. Responses were received between 25 April and 31 May, 2017. The sample of respondents is composed of professionals, professors, students and academic managers from the field of journalism in Spain. In a second phase, in-depth interviews with open-ended questions were conducted with professionals in the sector, in order to better understand the competencies and professional profiles based on their practices in the context of today’s job market.
The online questionnaire was structured in the following five sections (see table 2).
Table 2: Online questionnaire
The competencies included in each section are listed in table 1.
A link to the questionnaire was sent via email to the Spanish universities that offer degrees in journalism. They were asked to distribute the email among the faculty, academic managers, and students. The group of professionals were invited to answer the questionnaire through the newsrooms of the main Spanish media and trade unions and associations of journalists. The form was open from 25 April to 31 May, 2017.
SPSS was used to performed descriptive statistics (mean, median, standard deviation, and mode) in the collected data, in order to organise on a scale of frequency the most relevant competencies for the surveyed participants.
Estimations were organised on a five-point Likert scale (1 is Not Important; 2 is Slightly Important; 3 is Moderately Important; 4 is Important; and 5 is Very Important) to allow the allocation of numbers according to a predetermined order to know the degree of agreement of interviewees with each of the knowledge and competencies proposed. This method allowed us to capture the intensity of participants’ opinions towards complex statements. For online questionnaires, this is a recommended resource, because it allows the interviewee to easily make comparisons between elements, modifications and adjustments to answers (Sweeney, Williams & Anderson, 2007).
The descriptive techniques used include frequency distribution, arithmetic mean and standard deviation. According to Sweeney, Williams and Anderson (2007), the distribution of frequencies can be defined as the sum of data that present the frequency or number of observations in each of the different non-overlapping categories, while Pestana and Gageiro (2014) describe it as a table that describes data and categorised them in percentages.
The results presented here follow the order and sections division proposed in the questionnaire and are reported to highlight the findings on knowledge and competencies considered most important for the exercise of the profession in the context in today’s job market.
4.1. Disciplinary knowledge
Source: Authors’ own creation with SPSS results. See Annex 2.
The analysis of the rankings assigned to the 19 items in the disciplinary knowledge category, from highest to lowest, indicates that the knowledge areas currently perceived as most important for the profession are: 1) Capacity to apply properly native languages and the English language to the sector (average: 4.20) and Knowledge of and capacity to apply sector-specific software and new digital technologies (average: 4.01), both with an average ranking about 4. In the third and fourth positions are: Knowledge of the media’s structure and main platforms and formats (average: 3.97) and Knowledge of the ethics, professional deontology and legal framework of the sector (average: 3.95).
The importance of knowledge and the correct use of the language is also related to some of the consequences of the crisis of journalism, as pointed out by one interviewee: “writers and editors have virtually disappeared. But not so much due to the technological conversion, but due to the economic crisis that has led to big media to cut some positions that were seen as unnecessary”. It should be added that the knowledge of other languages is essential to the current context of global journalism, in which an event that occurs in one place can affect the whole world. The journalist who dominates the knowledge of foreign languages is better prepared and has fundamental tools to recognise and explain these situations.
4.2. Professional competencies
Source: Authors’ own creation with SPSS results. See Annex 3.
From the professional competencies, the items rated as most important were: Write fluently texts, step-outlines and scripts (average: 4.49) and, slightly behind in second place, Learn autonomously and adapt to changes (average: 4.47). Another item ranked above 4 is Retrieve, analyse, process and disseminate information (average: 4.22).
In relation to the classification identified in the questionnaire, the interviewees confirmed some aspects. A professional with more than 25 years of experience in the sector confirms that “the most important thing is always to be able to identify issues of interest and explain them properly”. On the issues considered as key to exercise the profession outside the academia, an interviewee, a university Professor, adds that: “being capable of identifying and telling good stories, interesting stories, so that people pays attention to relevant issues and can make decisions about them (consumption, leisure, voting, etc.)”. The interviewee also includes complementary aspects such as “capacity for research, ethics and commitment to the plurality of voices”.
With regards to the capacity to carry out autonomous learning and adapt to changes, one of the interviewees proposes to also think about innovation, reviewing the transformations of the newspaper market in recent decades and the opportunities to become entrepreneurs. In this sense he proposes that the most important competency is “the capacity to innovate, with respect to new business models for journalism, much more independent and detached from the large media companies”.
4.3. Academic competencies
Source: Authors’ own creation with SPSS results. See Annex 4.
From the proposed set of academic competencies, the three most important for respondents are: Ability to search and manage information in a digital environment (average: 4.36), followed in second place by Present properly research results in oral, written, audiovisual or digital manner (average: 4.22), and, in the third position, the Capacity to understand and interpret critically a complex communicative environment (average: 4.08).
The multiplicity of sources existing in the digital environment (search engines, social networks, billions of webpages with information about any topic etc.) allows us to understand why information search and management occupy the first position in this field, followed by the next step: the presentation of the research results. The third most important competence highlights the difficulty of trying to interpret in journalistic terms an environment whose complexity continues to increase. Thus, one of the interviewees, a professor of journalism, emphasises that these competencies are key to “maintaining the commitment to the seriousness and centrality of journalism, which is needed to promote the development of a democratic society”. This interviewee adds that immersion in the academic world is one of the work options for graduates and that the listed competencies play an equally important role in academic research and teaching.
4.4. Other specific competencies
Source: Authors’ own creation with SPSS results. See Annex 5.
In the group of other specific competencies, all proposed items were received scores above 4. According to respondents, the most important specific competence is the Capacity for critical analysis, synthesis and judgement. Knowledge of how to relate causes and effects (average: 4.47). Two competencies occupy the second position: the Ability to make decisions in situations of uncertainty, assuming risks and responsibilities (average: 4.40) and the Knowledge of how to manage time and organise tasks (average: 4.40). With a difference of just one decimal, the third most important specific competence is teamwork in different environments, communicate ideas, and integrated into a common project aimed at obtaining results (average: 4.39).
Consistently with the statements of interviewees, the specific competencies seem to be transversal to all professional profiles within journalism and represent guides for the development and implementation of other competencies in the context of a competitive, instant and globalised job market that is highly dominated by information and communication technologies.
5. Discussion and conclusions
Based on the analysis of the collected data, we have established the knowledge areas and competencies that are important or otherwise from the point of view of active professionals and future professionals for the good exercise of the profession.
The analysis of the items that stood out in interviewees’ rankings confirms, on the one hand, the direct connection between the effects of technological changes in the processes of communication and content creation and the competencies necessary for professional performance in the current context, in line with the aforementioned observations made by Deuze (2006) and Díaz Noci (2010).
With regards to disciplinary knowledge, the items that remain in first place are the correct use of native languages (as well as English) applied to the sector, and in line with the technological revolution, the knowledge and use of the specific software and new digital technologies applied to journalism, just prior to the knowledge of the structure of the media and their main platforms and formats. Of the areas of knowledge, the least important for the exercise of the profession, according for respondents, is the knowledge of the historical evolution, processes, theories and psychological models of communication (average: 2.83), which points towards a more technical orientation and perhaps less reasoned and critical of journalism as a tool and agent of social influence.
Regarding the know-how, the professional competencies, the nucleus of the professional profile is constituted by the capacity to write with fluency remains a top competency for journalists together with the ability to retrieve, analyse, process and disseminate information. This shows that, despite the fact that new competencies are added due to the passage of time and derived changes, the importance of the competencies that constitute the defining elements of the profession prevail. This result confirms the findings of the study carried bout by Marques-Hayasaki, Roca-Cuberes and Singla (2016), about the new professional profiles and their respective competencies, which determined, based on interviews with Spanish journalists, that the traditional profiles are not disappearing completely despite there have been several changes in the journalistic work routines.
The most important competencies for respondents are the capacity to understand and interpret complex environments following a line of critical thinking and the capacity to present properly research results, which is unsurprising in this study.
The analysed data that take proportions of greater importance are the evaluation of the set of competencies defined as “other specific competencies”. All the 10 items that form this competence group were assessed as important or very important, making this group the highest valued in the questionnaire. The competencies of this group are characterised for being transversal within the curricula of degree in journalism, since they are competencies that are developed throughout the academic experience and are inherent to the teaching-learning method. In this competence group, the items that received the highest scores are: equality awareness; teamwork capacity; ability to communicate ideas and become part joint projects; capacity to make decisions in situations of uncertainty, assuming risks and responsibilities; and capacity to act freely and responsibly, assuming ethical references, values and principles. In the current context of journalism, this assessment reveals the importance of these competencies and at the same time highlights a challenge for the education system. This leads us to reflect more clearly on the debate around competencies for personal and professional development in a world marked by local problems with global reach that require to constantly take up positions that intertwine what we are and our ability to act as social beings.
Based on the findings, it can be said that the study has achieved its objectives and we are now able to offer an updated perspective on the assessment of professional competencies based on the professional practice of journalists and journalists in training in Spain. The results are also intended to be an informative complement useful for the review of the curricula of degrees in journalism.
For a better understanding of the results, the following table presents the disciplinary knowledge organised according to the importance attributed by respondents:
Source: Authors’ own creation.
Table 8 presents the set of professional competencies organised according to the importance attributed by respondents:
Source: Authors’ own creation.
Table 9, presents the academic competencies organised according to the importance attributed by respondents:
Source: Authors’ own creation.
And finally, table 10 presents the list of specific competencies organised according to the importance attributed by respondents:
Source: Authors’ own creation.
The observations made in this article converge with the condition that the mode of access to information and services is in continuous transformation, and so is the structure and composition of societies. These features of the contemporary panorama require journalism professionals with the ability to understand this continuous evolution and to renew themselves almost at the same speed. This means that the educational project must be adapted to this evolving flow so that future professionals can develop the competencies that contribute to their personal development and their insertion in the sector.
As Berger and Foote point out, an additional issue that is worth discussing is the ultimate goal of journalistic education: “to empower not only students, but also journalism in itself” (2017: 259). In other words, the quality education of future journalists is supposed to have an impact on the quality of citizens and society.
As final comments, we must recognise the limitation of the selected sample, which should be taken into account for future research. However, based on our results, we believe that the sample is consistent and appropriate for this first approach, which is part of a wider project.
Finally, our perception as researchers on the subject is that there is a clear need to study communication professionals in a regular basis. It is important to take into account their experiences and perceptions to continue adapting the subjects and contents of the degree in journalism for a better development of future professionals. This adaptation must remain within viability parameters and avoid the transformation of the degree into purely technological training, as García-Santamaría and Carter (2014) warn. Adding all this, and from a broader view, it is important to highlight the need to give continuity to the reflection on the importance of journalism and the space it occupies within communication sciences.
 Funded research. This article is the product of the teaching innovation project titled “Evaluation and restructuring of communication degrees in the Pompeu Fabra University” (2014EMQ2 007), funded by the Agency for the Management of University and Research Grants (AGAUR) of the Government of Catalonia within the call for Strategic academic projects to improve quality, efficiency and internationalisation
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6.1. Related articles
Marques-Hayasaki, P., Fernández Cavia, J., & Singla Casellas, C. (2017). Mapeo de nuevos perfiles profesionales y competencias en el ámbito del periodismo. Competencias y perfiles profesionales en el ámbito de la comunicación, 67-77.
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Annex 1. Script for interviews
1. What are your current occupation in your professional life?
2. Which lines of research or professional projects are involved in?
3. What features do you consider the most important for the development of the profession, in general terms?
4. How do you translate the importance of these characteristics into competencies that journalism professional must have?
5. How would you describe the situation of the most traditional professional profiles? (E.g.: print journalism, editor in chief. writer, reporter, etc.)
6. Of these profiles, which one would you think would be changing due to the technological evolution?
7. Consequently, do you understand that some profiles would be disappearing?
8. Do you consider that those profiles related to digital content are transversal for the development of the profession?
9. How do you think that the specialisation of professionals is affected by the demand of the communication professional to be multipurpose?
10. From the professional point of view, do you think that the need to be updated influences your experience/level of specialisation?
11. How do you perceive the current situation of journalism studies?
12. Do you think that there is a need to develop an exclusive degree for studies on communication in a generic sense? Why?
13. Do you think it is necessary to offer degrees exclusively focused in digital communication? Why?
14. What are the aspects do you consider to be key to develop the profession outside the academia?
15. From the most traditional competencies, which ones would continue to be in-demand in the job market?
16. Consequently, what are the competencies that would have changed within the university education system?
17. Apart from these, do you think that new competencies are emerging or in demand in the academia?
18. How do you think the university system encourages the creation of new profiles?
19. How do you think this affects the most traditional profiles?
20. Which would the new capabilities that could be associated to the profiles already established? (e.g.: for the journalist, to know the functioning of social networks/social media, or the ability to move easily between journalistic genres and media, etc.)
21. How do you think that the new profiles that have recently emerged according to knowledge related to technology and digitisation affect the lack of standardisation in a rapidly changing field?
22. What university qualifications do you have?
23. In which organisation/university/company do you work?
24. What is your position in your workplace?
25. How many years of experience do you have in that position?
26. How long have been working/researching for in this area?
Annex 2. SPSS Table of disciplinary knowledge
Annex 3. SPSS Table of professional competencies
Annex 4. SPSS Table of academic competencies
Annex 5. SPSS Table of other specific competencies
How to cite this article in bibliographies / References
J Schena, R Besalú, C Singla Casellas (2018): “Updated assessment of the competencies required from Spanish journalists in the professional workplace”. Revista Latina de Comunicación Social, 73, pp. 531 to 555.
Article received on 2 December 2017. Accepted on 30 February.