Earlier this month, Bill Grueskin, dean of academic affairs at Columbia Journalism School, wrote a thoughtful argument against the concept of journalists as Swiss Army knives. In his essay for Nieman Journalism Lab, he argued that “one-size-fits-all” journalists trained in a wide variety of digital media skills hurt journalism more than they help it. Asking journalists to do it all, he said, means few of them will do any of it well.
Although I’m sympathetic to his argument, and value the fundamentals of journalism as much as anyone, I think he’s fighting a losing battle.
More persuasive to me is Atlantic Digital editor Bob Cohn’s excellent piece today on the Folio: website, “Hiring in the Digital Age.” In Cohn’s view, the Swiss Army knife journalist is a reality that must be reckoned with, like it or not:
“This transition from vertical job descriptions to horizontal job descriptions is perhaps the most profound change in newsrooms that are full of change. I can’t say whether this is a sign of trouble or triumph for journalism. Probably both. But it is definitely a matter of fact.”
As Cohn points out, the multiplex skills and interests journalists need these days are essential to a world in which barriers are breaking down everywhere. Success in journalism is not just a matter of a broad skill set, but also of wide-ranging interests and open, inquisitive attitudes.
If you’re involved in training or hiring journalists, Cohn’s article is required reading. You may not like what he says, but, sooner or later, you will have to deal with it.