Reaction: Survey of Online Journalists

The survey of journalists working online at North Carolina newspapers has begun to receive some insightful feedback from others, both on this site and around the Web. It’s a good time to summarize some of the responses here. I’m looking forward to hearing from more people, especially if you have a question that the data I’ve collected might help answer. For me, two big questions remain:

  • Can we come up with a somewhat standardized set of job titles and descriptions for online newsrooms circa 2008?
  • Is there a way to look at newsrooms skills and organization structures to determine “the best” way to structure an online news operation?

Mindy McAdams smartly notes that this survey can only tell us about current job skills. It tells us nothing about what skills journalists might need in the future. She’s absolutely right on that point.

Patrick Beeson posted a fantastic rundown of the skills he had when he came out of school and the skills he learned along the way in Roanoke. He agrees with Mindy, that this predominance of traditional skills and duties may be because many online staffers are refugees/converts from the print side. But he also notes that there are a lot of young people in the survey, too. We need to look more closely at the interaction between age and skill sets.

I was interested to see that Steve Boris saw in the survey results evidence that “technology is a distraction [journalists] can do without.” My take on the results is somewhat different.

Kate Martin at the Skagit Valley Herald has begun to post some feedback, but we’re still waiting to hear more from her.

John Russial sent me some good comments that made me realize I had forgotten to give credit where credit is due. With his permission, here’s what John e-mailed me:

I’m not surprised by the findings that traditional skills are valued. That’s similar to what Max McGee, a grad student at Northwestern, found in an online survey of a wide range of online sites. His adviser, Rich Gordon, in commenting on the results, said that the skills Max found important were closest to copy editing skills. I also think that there probably is a difference between what the major sites want and can afford — more specialization (programmers, interface designers, etc.)–and what smaller operations need. It’s similar to wearing many hats at a small papers and wearing one at big ones.

One of the things I found last year in my national survey of online editors and print copy chiefs was that the top reason online stories were not copy edited was that editing would delay posting. That seems to be consistent with what you found about deadline skills–getting it fast vs. attention to detail.

My research assistant, Sara Peach, took a close look at the McGee/Gordon study to help me formulate some of the question choices in this survey. I was interested to see if their findings still held true. Looks like they do.

I also need to give credit to Chris Patterson, David Domingo and the authors of the chapters in Making Online News. It’s a good collection of ethnographic research in to online newsrooms.

None of these folks are responsible for the perception from at least one commenter that this study is “more like government propaganda than a legitimate study.” That commenter does make a good point — after all, any idiot with a blog can post something on the Internet.

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1 thought on “Reaction: Survey of Online Journalists”

  1. Ryan, the results of your survey are coherent with the data compiled by observation of online newsroom routines by the authors in the book Making Online News you kindly cite in your post. The organizational constraints and the professional culture of journalism are key factors to explain why online journalism is not revolutioning journalism, but rather an evolution of traditional routines and values. From all the potentials of the Internet, immediacy is the one that resonates most with traditional journalism values, and my hypotesis is that is the reason why online journalists prioritize it over other values such as interactivity or multimedia production, that are more difficult to fit into the traditional professional culture.

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