Journalists: Newsroom Status Quo Not Good Enough
Study splits newsrooms into six profiles of journalists determined by digital appetite. (Antony Mayfield)
A recent headline on Romenesko instantly grabbed my attention --"Study: Most newspaper journalists like their jobs."
Is that a typo? Was it supposed to be "Study: Most newspaper journalists like that they still have a job."
I know plenty of journalists who -- scared by the ever-present threat of layoffs -- have adopted the attitude of, "well, it may not be the greatest gig, but at least I have a job."
This is because despite shrinking newsrooms, reduced benefits and the pressure to turn out a fine print product and also drive traffic to the paper's Web site, journalists don't want to be anything other than journalists. Even stressed-out, over-worked and under-paid at my first daily newspaper job where I cried every day in the bathroom, I never, ever for a minute questioned my decision to be a journalist.
And that's exactly what the study "Life beyond print: Newspaper journalists' digital appetite," is proving to be true.
In the midst of an industry completely reinventing itself, 77 percent of journalists are somewhat or very satisfied with their current jobs, according to the study from the Media Management Center out of Northwestern University that surveyed almost 3,8000 people in a cross-section of jobs in 79 newsrooms across the country.
However, it's this little tidbit that the study centers around: "America's journalists want a quicker transformation from print to digital delivery."
In fact, half say their newsroom's transition from print to digital is moving too slowly.
I was among them. I was a vocal, obnoxious perhaps, proponent of moving my paper forward on the Web. But I often felt like my ideas often fell on deaf ears. So, out of that frustration I left my former paper to go back to school to gain the new media skills I've seen first-hand that journalists need to help papers like mine to truly think Web first.
It's almost scary, then, how accurately all that is reflected in the "Life beyond print" study. In it, I fall into two of the six emerging profiles of journalists determined by using digital appetite as a guide.
I am a mix of:
Digitals -- About 12 percent of the workforce who spend most of their time working online. They're the youngest group; with an average age of 38, and 59% believe the digital transformation is taking too long in their newsroom.
Major Shift -- At 11 percent, are the most dissatisfied with their current state, more pessimistic about staying in the business long-term and want the most pronounced change. This group - roughly an equal mix of reporters, mid-level editors, copy editors, designers and videographers, most of whom have been in the business at least 15 years - would like to devote five times their current effort to online. They're deeply engaged online in their personal lives, but see a disconnect at work. They could help the newsroom adapt faster, but need a sign they should stay in newspapers.
The other profiles are:
Moderately More -- The largest segment at 50 percent and encompassing many reporters and mid-level editors who want a roughly equal split between online and print work.
The Status Quo -- At 14 percent, may present a particularly thorny management challenge. They believe the 30 percent of effort they currently devote to online is sufficient and expect little disruption to the way they work now.
Turn Back the Clock -- Just wishes it would all go away. They represent 6 percent of journalists.
Leaders -- At 5 percent, are publishers, editors and managing editors, most of whom have been in the news business more than 20 years. Most report their roles are primarily print-focused but want to shift to online. Like Digitals, they describe themselves as open to change and optimistic about their career options.
Following the profiles, the study outlines a few predictors of a digital appetite, i.e., what makes some journalists vocal advocates of the journalism 3.0 revolution.
The most shocking: it's not youth, says the study.
Rather, the top two predictors of digital appetite are heavy Internet use outside work and having knowledge of online audiences and their preferences.
Other drivers of desire for digital work are:
â€¢ Personality: Openness to change at work
â€¢ Digital training
â€¢ Personality: Work and career proactivity
â€¢ Job satisfaction
â€¢ Likelihood to remain in the news business
And here are a few other items in the study that caught my eye:
â€¢ Leaders who want staff to be ready to go online should not punish them for frittering away a little down time at work online. In fact, they should be encouraged to edit video, tweet, upload mobile photos to Facebook pages and otherwise keep current in online trends.
â€¢ Digital employees' ratings of senior leaders tracked with other employees with a few noteworthy exceptions. They gave senior leaders good marks for the item "really understand what it takes to put out the newspaper" But they rated them particularly low on "stay current on trends in news and information online."
â€¢ Journalists who want the most change - the Major Shift and Turn Back the Clock segments - also tend to be more critical of leaders' performance and skills than other staff. These two groups - which together make up about 17 percent of staff - also are the least satisfied with their current jobs.
â€¢ As earlier noted, the study shows that knowledge of online customers drives journalists' appetite for doing more digital work. But senior managers rate research about what online users want low on the list. This suggests that editors are at risk of repeating the errors of the past by not ensuring that everyone in the newsroom develops a deep knowledge of who their audience is and what they want.
â€¢ Today's journalists must constantly remake themselves, adapting to new technology in order to relate to new audiences. They must be able to see and seize career opportunities within and outside their current organization. The ability to adapt may well be the measure of long-term success going forward.
Kim Nowacki worked for the past six years as the lead arts and entertainment writer for a daily newspaper in Washington state before beginning grad school at USC's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. Her focus is online journalism and new media -- and how they can help save ink on paper.