Survey of Online Journalists: They’re Young, White Copyeditors

April 2nd, 2009; 6:33 pm by Ryan Thornburg

Earlier this week, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism came out with a survey about the attitudes of online journalists. I’m sad to say that the survey has limited use in charting a path for the future of news, but it did make me feel a lot better about the response rate in my recently completed national survey of online journalists.

Pew hired Princeton Survey Research Associations International to conduct its poll of 1,201 members of the Online News Association. They had a 24 percent response rate. I paid two grad students and an undergrad to help me survey 174 online journalists (mostly non-members of ONA). We had a 29 percent response rate.

But even more importantly, I think the survey we did here at UNC does a much better job showing us the future of news… which is bright if you dream of a future of inexperienced, homogeneous copyeditors shuffling text around a Web page.

Here’s the topline of the PEJ survey. Here’s the data from the UNC survey.

Perhaps the main difference between the two surveys is that I was interested in what journalists do, while the questions in the PEJ survey emphasized what journalists think.

What the UNC survey found was consistent with a lot of findings in my earlier survey of North Carolina’s online journalists and in the 2006 survey by C. Max Magee , working with Rich Gordon at Northwestern University:

  • Online journalists say they have a high level of proficiency in traditional skills such as news judgment, grammar/style, their company’s content management system, writing headlines and blurbs. They also say they have a high level of proficiency with “Web usability.”
  • They say they have a low level of proficiency in technical skills such as SQL, Flash, computer programming languages, and even Dreamweaver.
  • They spend most of their time managing projects , writing and editing scripts
  • They are 93 percent white.
  • They work mostly with text and are mostly editors.
  • A third have fewer than five years experience.
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Related posts:

  1. Reaction: Survey of Online Journalists
  2. Skills of Online Journalists Skew Traditional
  3. Experience Levels of Online Journalists
  4. Survey of Journalism Want Ads
  5. Online Journalists See Themselves in Traditional Fields; Could It Be the ‘Gannett Effect’?

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6 Responses to “Survey of Online Journalists: They’re Young, White Copyeditors”

  1. Mark S. Luckie Says:

    I suddenly feel like an anomaly

  2. Pam Says:

    They work mostly with text and are mostly editors.
    How does that translate to being copy editors?

  3. Ryan Thornburg Says:

    Mark – What is your job title, skills and duties?

  4. Ryan Thornburg Says:

    In the sense that they are not reporters or assignment editors. They specialize in layout, word usage, etc.

  5. Liz Bleiberg Says:

    Assuming these are all bright folks, how do they reconcile their failing industry? Surely folks have realized that there are related aspects to their jobs that are less than rosy…unemployment is just one of these!

  6. M.J. Parker Says:

    In the sense that they are not reporters or assignment editors. They specialize in layout, word usage, etc.

    That doesn’t mean they’re copy editors, I promise you.

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