The Innovation Divide: Similarities and differences in how managers and staff view the transition to digital
Editor’s note: Rather than slow, the pace of change in news in 2017 appears only to be accelerating. McClatchy’s new chief executive recently announced a program to speed up digital transformation in the newspaper chain’s 31 newsrooms. The multi-million dollar Knight-Lenfest Newsroom initiative (of which API plays a role) has expanded its team-centric process to accelerate organizational change at local newspaper companies. And leaders at the New York Times have gone public to answer questions about the future of editing at the paper after announcing plans to eliminate the stand-alone copy desk. Against that backdrop, API is releasing a fresh look at data gathered from more than 10,000 people who studied journalism and communications. This new analysis assesses the differences and similarities between managers and staff in journalism. The new report was written by Alex Williams, who is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School.
To what extent do newsroom leaders and the journalists who work for them agree on what constitute the biggest challenges facing the news industry? Are managers and staff in agreement when it comes to new approaches such as data journalism, gathering information from audience metrics, and experimenting with new revenue approaches such as sponsored content?
Given the degree to which culture impacts how successful legacy organizations can be in making changes, the answers to those questions can be a major factor in the future of news.
For a research fellowship centered on this concept, I’ve taken a deeper look at data from the American Press Institute’s 2015 survey of more than 10,000 journalism and communication school graduates, plus a previously unreleased sample of news managers from American Society of News Editors and Radio Television Digital News Association. In sum, this report analyzes survey responses of 1,604 managers and 3,579 staff members in the media industry to gauge their comfort level with new technologies, the challenges they face in their daily jobs, their views about the journalism industry more broadly, and their career experiences in 2010-2015 (see Methodology and Sample). While the data is from 2015, we believe the attitudes about long-term issues, and the differences between managers and staff, remain as relevant as they were then.
The views of managers generally resemble the ‘business side’ that focuses on audience metrics and embracing new streams of revenue while the views of staff more closely align with the ‘editorial side’ that focuses on creating content and preserving news quality.
The results of the survey suggest that managers are more comfortable embracing new digital practices and technologies, managers and staff members report similar experiences and frustration with cut backs, and that staff members are more critical of sponsored content and media owners. A key implication of these findings is that compared to managers, staff members are less comfortable with certain new digital applications and less interested in learning about new business approaches.
While managers and staff share some similarities, the overall picture that emerges from the survey is still one of lingering silos. The views of managers generally resemble the “business side” that focuses on audience metrics and embracing new streams of revenue while the views of staff more closely align with the “editorial side” that focuses on creating content and preserving news quality.
Some may see this as a natural extension of managers focusing on the “big questions” while staff focus on what they do best: producing journalism.
But innovation reports, studies of best practices, and individual case studies have concluded that this traditional set up may stymie change. Innovation often requires workers throughout the organization to share the same goals and views. Seen from this perspective, the contrasts between managers and staff may illustrate the need to more clearly communicate how new strategies fit within existing norms and goals. Conversely, managers may need to listen more to staff concerns to iterate new approaches.
Innovation often requires workers throughout the organization to share the same goals and views.
Among our notable findings:
- Managers want quicker adoption of technology. When asked about the biggest challenges facing journalism, managers are more likely than staff members to believe that traditional media companies need to adapt faster to new technology (39% vs 30%).
- Managers say they are more comfortable with new digital practices and technologies than staff members do. Managers are more likely to be “very comfortable” with content management systems (47% vs 31%), layout software (23% vs 14%), project management tools (23% vs 11%), graphic design (19% vs 13%), HTML (16% vs 10%), and using digital tools to verify information (50% vs 44%). Staff members are more likely to report that they do not use these tools in their jobs.
- Managers place greater emphasis on data journalism and audience metrics. Managers were more likely to emphasize fluency with data (39% vs 31%), understanding audience data (32% vs 22%), and conducting audience research (31% vs 26%) as important for someone in their field.
- A growing problem in the industry may be overworked employees. In the past five years, the majority of managers and staff members reported having duties added to existing job responsibilities (68% vs 62%). Relatedly, for both managers and staff members, the biggest obstacle affecting their ability to do their job is “organization resources and staffing” (59% compared to 47% of staff members).
- Staff members feel less secure in their jobs. 74 percent of managers reported feeling at least “fairly secure” compared to 67 percent of staff members.
- Managers and staff members have experienced cutbacks at similar rates. In the past five years, members of both groups have personally experienced layoffs (13% in both groups), pay cuts (15% vs 14%), and furloughs (10% vs 9%).
- Outside of their primary jobs, managers donate more time while staff members freelance more. Managers are more likely to have donated their skills to a charitable group (53% vs 44%). Staff members are more likely to have performed freelance work (33% vs 22%).
- Staff members are more skeptical of financial questions such as sponsored content and aggregators. Staff members are more likely to believe that sponsored content crosses ethical boundaries (58% vs 50% of managers) and that news aggregators should compensate journalists (61% vs 58%).
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