Mixed messages on pagination and other new skills

Mixed messages on pagination and other new skills

Russial, John T

Versatile journalist needed for swing job — split time between GA reporting and Macintosh pagination… . Will consider beginning or experienced applicants; some Mac knowledge necessary… .(1)

Award-winning central Illinois daily seeks versatile, talented paginator who can make headlines sing, design striking layouts and crank out pages with dispatch. Quark XPress, Illustrator, FreeHand, right and left brain thinking a plus… .(2)

How important is it for editors to have pagination training or experience? A glance through the Help Wanted section of Editor & Publisher suggests it is pretty important. A glance at a recent Associated Press Managing Editor survey suggests it isn’t.

The APME membership voted desktop publishing eighth on a list of 11 topics that journalism schools should emphasize — beyond the basics of writing and editing — in training journalists of the future. APME members were asked to vote for five out of eleven topics. The five most often mentioned, which have been designated APME’s Agenda for Journalism Education, are:

* Thinking Analytically. (Synthesizing issues and information.)

* Presentation of Information. (Visual communication. Making decisions in reporting and editing that lead to the most sensible and compelling presentations.)

* Understanding Numbers in the News. (Conducting and interpreting surveys and online research; database reporting; spreadsheet use.)

* Listening to Readers. (Students conduct focus groups/interviews with local newspaper readers to better understand how readers view newspapers.)

Writing tighter.(3)

The skill ranked foremost in the APME tally is consistent with the thinking of many journalism professors. Jerry Ceppos, managing editor of the San Jose Mercury News, pointed out that educators did not dispute the number-one topic when he presented the results of the survey to them.(4) Betty Medsger, chair of the journalism department at San Francisco State University, and Pamela Shoemaker, a professor at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, are but two of many who argue that the need for critical thinking skills in journalism “cannot be underestimated.”(5) But are these messages from the APME and from the academy consistent with other indications from the industry about the skills it considers important?

This study attempts to address two questions:

1. To what degree has pagination/desktop publishing experience become a criterion for editing jobs? More specifically, has the industry’s demand for such experience increased significantly in recent years?

2. Are journalism educators receiving a consistent message from the newspaper industry about the importance of pagination and other skills?

Background

The experience of some newspapers with pagination suggests that what editors might prefer in job candidates on an abstract level and what they actually seek on a practical level are not the same. A study of 12 newspapers in 1989 indicated that in order to handle the complexities of pagination, editorial supervisors tended to select staff members who were “technically coordinated” for pagination roles. Yet at most of these papers, editors said in interviews that they would consider technical skills secondary to traditional editing skills in hiring.(6)

Technical skills in the newsroom first became an issue for dailies when VDTs were introduced in the mid-70s. The issues most often discussed were editing speed and accuracy compared with pencil-and-paper editing. David Weaver and G. Cleveland Wilhoit summarized these studies, pointing out that taken as a whole they were inconclusive.(7). William Lindley said that copyeditors whose careers spanned hot type and VDT systems felt that complexity of coding and production concerns had increased along with their control over the copy.(8)

Several studies of pagination found that as editing jobs have become more technical, editors have less time to spend on traditional editing tasks. In a study that timed the pagination process, John Russial found that “electronic makeup” tasks take editors about 15 minutes extra per page.(9) In a study of Canadian newspapers, Catherine McKercher found that pagination required editors to perform functions “of a technical, non-traditional and production-oriented nature.”(10) Doug Underwood, C. Anthony Giffard & Keith Stamm reported that editors at paginating papers said they were spending more time on production functions and less time on traditional editing tasks.(11) Journalism schools face a similar dilemma on a different scale: The more time and resources they spend teaching students how to use technological tools, the less they have for teaching traditional editing skills.

As Russial and Underwood, Giffard and Stamm indicate, pagination is more than a new tool. It changes the nature of professional newsroom work, increasing the production component. Whether journalism schools should teach pagination skills as specific as the use of Quark XPress or whether this should be the industry’s responsibility is a question that journalism educators have been asking for several years, much as they asked whether journalism schools should teach VDT skills more than a decade ago. The question is coming into sharper focus as pagination use increases.

Pagination and desktop publishing systems are widely used in U.S. dailies and weeklies despite a shaky start and slow acceptance in the 1980s. Exactly how widely they are used is difficult to say. Eric Wolferman, senior vice president of technology for the Newspaper Association of America, says part of the problem of tracking pagination is that pagination means different things to different people. If pagination means that a paper does some kind of electronic page layout on some kinds of pages somewhere in its operation, the percentage of papers that paginate might be close to 100, Wolferman said.(12) If it means that a newspaper paginates all of the elements — stories, headlines, photos, graphics and ads — on all pages, the percentage would be close to 0, he said.(13)

Wolferman estimated that about 200 to 250 dailies paginated in 1988, most with proprietary systems, such as Hastech, Harris, Atex, Information International and Dewar. The shift from proprietary systems to off-the-shelf desktop publishing in the late 80s has made it more difficult to track pagination. Today, in lieu of extensive survey data, a reasonable estimate is that several hundred dailies have proprietary systems and at least that many dailies and several thousand weeklies regularly use desktop publishing software such as Quark XPress. The question naturally occurs: Who is using this software? Do many papers require pagination experience of job applicants?

Method

A content analysis of job advertisements in Editor & Publisher was done for 1987, 1990 and 1993 to assess the emphasis placed on pagination experience. The 1993 sample also was coded to assess importance placed on any job skills, including those that reflect topics listed in the APME survey. E&P, which is published weekly, has the most comprehensive list of employment ads for editors and reporters in the country. Not all newspapers advertise in trade journals, but Editor and Publisher is the likely place for those that do.(14)

Ten issues a year were chosen for 1987, 1990 and 1993. For each year, one of the first seven issues was chosen randomly, and then every fifth issue was selected. This procedure yielded a sample of nearly 20 percent of a year’s ads while keeping the number of repeat ads to a minimum.(15)

Ads selected for coding were limited to full-time jobs for general circulation newspapers, daily or weekly. In the three-year sample, 93 percent of the jobs were for dailies and the rest were for weeklies. Ads were coded as seeking a reporter, an editor or a person who could serve as both reporter and editor. Ads seeking multiple positions were coded as multiple ads.

Ads seeking editors were coded in three categories: No mention of pagination, pagination experience recommended, and pagination experience required. Examples of wording varied. For example, an ad might read, “The successful candidate will have pagination experience,” or, “We want an editor who knows how to use Quark.” Such ads were coded as “pagination experience required.” Such wording as “pagination experience helpful” or “pagination knowledge a plus” or “should have Mac page design experience, but we’ll train you if you don’t” were coded as “pagination experience recommended.”(16)

To test reliability of coding, three issues of the ten-issue 1993 sample were coded by the author and another coder. The author did the rest of the coding. Agreement was 96 percent on identification of ads to code and on categorization decisions. Issues in 1993 were chosen for a reliability test because ads in 1993 presented the greatest opportunity for miscoding — many more ads mentioned pagination in 1993 than in the two other years.

All ads for editors were included, including those seeking supervisory editors, even though many of these positions would not entail pagination work. It is difficult to determine by job title whether an editor will have a pagination role. A managing editor of a 30,000-circulation daily might occasionally, or even regularly, paginate. A copyeditor at a major metro that paginates might do no actual pagination because page design is done by news editors or artists.

Results

A total of 1,313 ads was coded for the three years (see Table 1), (Table 1 omitted) and 859 (65.4 percent) were for editing jobs. For analysis purposes, the category “both editor and reporter,” which averaged about 5 percent of ads over the three years, was added to the category “editor.” The number of reporting jobs advertised increased in 1990 and dropped very sharply in 1993. The number of ads seeking editors was about the same in 1987 and 1990 and dropped sharply in 1993. These declines reflect the tighter market for news professionals indicated in trade journal accounts and surveys of recent journalism school graduates.(17)

Demand for pagination experience clearly increased over time. (see Table 2) (Table 2 omitted) The percentage of ads recommending or requiring pagination experience was slightly greater in 1990 (9.6 percent) than in 1987 (4.4 percent), and it rose sharply in 1993 (31.6 percent). If it had been possible to eliminate the ads for those supervisory editors and others who would spend no time doing pagination, the percentage would have been higher, perhaps much higher.

Table 2 also shows a shift in the percentage of ads that listed pagination experience as a requirement as opposed to a recommendation. In 1993, editors were much more likely to insist on pagination experience than they were in 1990 and 1987. In the 1993 sample, 58 percent of the ads that required or recommended pagination experience asked for experience with specific hardware or software.(18) About half of the ads for paginating editors mentioned newsroom experience; the range was no experience to about five years.

APME comparison

Additional coding of the 1993 sample suggested broader differences between the types of skills recommended by the APME members and those specified in the ads, particularly for editors. (see Table 3) (Table 3 omitted) Two “basic skills” — design and copyediting — were mentioned most often in ads for editors, followed by supervisory/leadership skills. Pagination/desktop publishing skills were mentioned nearly as often. Next were headline skills, another traditional skill not listed in the APME survey, and people skills, such as the ability to work with others. This too was not a category in the APME survey.

For reporters, the ads most often sought specific departmental experience, such as sports, business, lifestyle, arts and entertainment. “Aggressiveness” was mentioned next most often, and “Writing skills” (which probably includes elements of the APME category “Writing tighter”) were mentioned next.

A few caveats are in order. Many ads for editors were seeking experienced journalists for supervisory positions. Hence the importance placed on “supervisory/ planning/leadership skills.” Many ads for reporters were seeking journalists with experience on specific beats, such as business or sports. So it makes sense that specialized experience ranked very high in terms of number of mentions.

The APME committee that designed the survey intentionally omitted a reference to “re-emphasizing the basics,” though many APME members and academics had recommended that the survey include such a reference. In that sense, there does seem to be general agreement on what skills are needed — skills most often mentioned in the editing ads were basic skills of page design and copyediting. Looking beyond the basics, which was the stated intent of the APME survey, one finds substantial discrepancy between the survey results and the E&P ads, particularly for editors.

In the case of certain skills, it seems apparent that the ads are asking for the same sorts of skills that the APME survey respondents were recommending, only in different words. The APME category “Presenting information well” is the best example. This category no doubt would include design and headline skills and, to a degree, copyediting and writing skills as well.

In other cases, there seemed to be clear differences in emphasis. Storytelling, a new skill that some writing coaches and experienced reporters argue is crucial to the future of newspapers,(19) ranked sixth on the APME survey. Yet storytelling skills were barely represented in the reporting or editing ads.(2O) Several of the categories that editors ranked very high in the APME survey — Thinking analytically, Listening to readers and Understanding numbers in the news — were mentioned in only a few ads in the 1993 sample. Perhaps it goes without saying that editors want job applicants who are critical thinkers. On the other hand, if critical thinking is such a basic skill, should it have been included in the APME’s survey?

Discussion

This study asked whether pagination skills have become a requirement for editing jobs and whether the industry is clear on what skills it deems important. The sharpness of the increase reflected in E&P ads in the last three years suggests that pagination is now a significant part of many editing jobs and is increasing in importance. What is surprising is that, in light of this increase in demand for pagination/desktop publishing skills, more APME members did not indicate desktop publishing as a necessary skill for journalists of the future.

The APME survey was generic — it listed topics journalism schools should emphasize beyond the basics. Perhaps if the APME members had been asked to separately rank skills that editors and reporters should be taught, desktop publishing would have been a “top-five” skill for editors. It is clear by the range of categories offered, however, that the APME had editors in mind as well as reporters.

Specific comparisons between the APME rankings and the skills mentioned in the ads should be made with some circumspection. The wording of categories is not the same, and there is no doubt some overlap behyeen categories. But beyond the obvious difficulties involved in comparing ads with a list of topics ranked on a survey, the criteria editors desire in new hires should reflect their philosophies about what skills are important for the future. There seems to be a clear discrepancy between the ads for editors and the APME survey in the importance placed on pagination/desktop publishing, a category in which comparability is clear.

A possible reason for the discrepancy is that pagination, for all its benefits in design flexibility and output speed, has a significant production component — and managing editors might not have come to terms with that. The design component reflects the same skills editors employed when they used page dummies and proportion wheels; the makeup component is computerized cut-and-paste work. Editors are practical — they know they need technically coordinated people to get the paper out, so they advertise for them. At the same time, they may be uncomfortable identifying such abilities as crucial skills for journalists, because electronic page makeup is not a higher-order professional skill such as critical thinking.

The issue of traditional or technical skills is an important one for newspapers and journalism schools, and it is likely to become more pertinent in an era of accelerating media convergence. Indeed, the lines seem to be blurring. Paul Lester of California State University, Fullerton, argues that journalism schools have to link technological concerns with a philosophy of education. “With technological convergence, our machines will be merged into a common medium,” he says. “Our instruction should therefore match our philosophy.” Robert McClain, the head of a training firm that specializes in Macintosh applications for newspapers, says that writing, editing and design skills should be taught first but that computer page design technology “has become a tool of the trade and should be better taught by our colleges and universities.”

“In most cases,” he says, “today’s graduates are far from ready to step into a paginated or partially paginated newspaper.”(21) The APME, on the other hand, seems to be saying that critical thinking is the most important skill and that technical skills such as pagination/desktop abilities are not particularly important.

So what are educators to do? Should they emphasize critical thinking or Quark XPress? Should they pay most attention to the skills managing editors say are important, or should they stress the skills managing editors are willing to pay for? Editing appears to be one of the few bright spots in newspaper hiring, and pagination/desktop publishing has increased the demand for editors who are technically adept.(22) If newspapers are seeking applicants with pagination/desktop publishing experience, do journalism schools need to make sure students are taught these skills so they will be competitive, particularly for editing jobs? Or is there a difference between what editors expect of students coming right out of journalism schools and what they expect of applicants who have a few years of newsroom experience? Pagination is a first step toward convergence — it integrates the work of various departments into common output. As far as journalism schools are concerned, it is quite expensive to teach that step. Can they afford to create courses that are laden with even more technology — to prepare students for careers in converging media, such as Lester suggests? Can they afford not to? Is this a proper role of journalism education?

These questions loom large as journalism schools grapple with tightening budgets in an era of rapid technological change. The schools’ decisions are made no easier when the messages coming from the industry are mixed.

1. Editor & Publisher, Feb. 20, 1993, p. 53.

2. Editor & Publisher, July 10, 1993, p. 37.

3. Jerry Ceppos, Teach Students to Think Analytically, APME Members Tell Journalism Educators. APME News, January/February 1 994, p. 3-4. According to A Report on the APME Agenda for Journalism Education, by Marcia Bullard, the categories used in the survey were developed from ideas solicited from the APME membership, from APME Journalism Education Committee members and from deans of journalism schools. The questionnaire was intended to define the new territories J-Schools must explore.”

The five top-ranked categories and the number of votes for each are as follows: Thinking analytically (234), Presenting information well (203), Understanding numbers in the news (187), Listening to readers (183) and Writing concisely (170). The remaining categories and votes: Storytelling (141), Our multicultural society (100), Desktop publishing (69), Why newspaper penetration has dropped (64), Management and marketing of newspapers (62) and “Personal affairs” reporting (53).

4. Ceppos, op.cit., p. 4.

5. Medsger comment cited in Ceppos, op.cit.; Pamela Shoemaker, Communication in Crisis: Theory, Curricula and Power. Journal of Communication, Autumn 1993, p. 146-153.

6. John Russial, Pagination and the Newsroom: Great Expectations, unpublished doctoral dissertation, Temple University, 1989. This attitude might be changing. For example, the publisher of a small Washington daily said at a conference in late 1994 that he replaced a managing editor who resigned with an English major who could handle Quark XPress well. M.L. Stein, Joys and Sorrows of Pagination. Editor & Publisher, Dec. 24. 1994, p. 24.

7. David Weaver and G. Cleveland Wilhoit, The American Journalist. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1986, p. 156-157. See also, Judee K. Burgoon, Michael Burgoon and Charles K. Atkin, The World of the Working Journalist. New York: Newspaper Advertising Bureau, 1982, p. 100-105.

8. William R. Lindley, From Hot Type to Video Screens: Editors Evaluate New Technology. Journalism Quarterly, Summer 1988, p. 485-89.

9. John Russial, Pagination and the Newsroom: A Question of Time. Newspaper Research Journal, 15(1) Winter 1994, p. 91-101.

10. Catherine McKercher, The Push to Pagination: The Impact of New Technology on Canadian Daily Newspapers. Paper presented to the Canadian Communication Association, June 1989.

11. Doug Underwood, C. Anthony Giffard and Keith Stamm, Computers and Editing: The Displacement Effect of Pagination in the Newsroom. Newspaper Research Journal, Spring 1994, p. 116-125.

12.Telephone interview with Eric Wolferman, former director/production systems, Gannett Co., March 21, 1994.

13. Some newspapers paginate most of their pages but only do text and headlines. Others paginate text, photos and graphics. Others only do special sections and advance pages. Some papers use desktop systems primarily because they have given the newsroom greater control over the use of color. Some use pre-paginated “agenda” pages, which the Associated Press has been transmitting to members in Mac-usable formats for a few years.

14. Newspapers use other methods of advertising job openings. Several chains, such as Gannett and McClatchy, post job openings on lists that are distributed throughout the chains. Some advertise in newspapers and other media, and others seldom advertise openings.

15. In Editor & Publisher, many employment ads run more than one week, and a random sample of 10 issues would have turned up some consecutive or near-consecutive weeks. In this sample, a few duplicates remained, because some newspapers, typically large ones that have ongoing needs, run ads for months, but these were minimal. No attempt was made to eliminate them.

16. Ads for graphic artists were not coded because nearly all of them require experience with Macintosh computers and software such as Quark, FreeHand or Illustrator.

17. Data from the ASNE’s annual employment census indicate that the newsroom work force peaked in 1990 and dropped steadily through 1993. Cornelius F. Foote Jr., Newsroom Work Force Continues to Shrink. ASNE Bulletin, May/June 1993, p. 18; James R. Morris, Meanwhile, on the Unemployment Front ASNE Bulletin, May/June 1993, p.19; Lee B. Becker, Getting into the Newspaper Business Is Tough. ASNE Bulletin, July/August 1992, p. 28-29.

18. Nineteen mentioned nonspecific “Mac” experience; 15 mentioned Quark XPress experience; 3 mentioned PageMaker, and 5 mentioned other hardware systems or software packages.

19. See, for example, Jon Franklin, Going the Distance. American Journalism Review, January/February 1993, p. 21-22; Jack Hart, Storytelling. Editor & Publisher, Feb. 5, 1994, p. 5.

20. “Storytelling” skills were mentioned only twice in 108 ads for reporters and once in 231 ads for editors.

21. Paul Lester, Technical Convergence Equals Professional and Academic Convergence. Viewpoints, The Official Newsletter of the Visual Communications Division of AEJMC, Fall 1993, p. 8.

22. Robert McClain, Journalism Education Should Include More Computer Training. Newspapers & Technology, January 1994, p. 21.

23. ASNE survey data show a slow but fairly steady increase in the percentage of news professionals who are copyeditors and supervisors (many of whom edit) and a steady decline in the percentage who are reporters. Cornelius F. Foote Jr., More than Half of U.S. Dailies Employ Newsroom Minorities. ASNE Bulletin, May/June 1993, p. 20-22. Cornelius F. Foote Jr., Minority, Total Newsroom Employment Show Slow Growth, 1994 Survey Says. ASNE Bulletin, April/May 1994, p. 20-22.

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