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

Written by Ryan Thornburg April 2, 2009 6:33 pm EDT 6 comments

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.

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Survey of Journalism Want Ads

Written by Ryan Thornburg September 23, 2008 8:00 am EDT 1 comment

I can’t wait to read the results of this study by Serena Carpenter at Arizona State University.

I’m particularly interested to see whether there’s a disconnect between the words that hiring managers use in their postings and the words that journalists themselves use to describe online news jobs. Also, job postings are an important “leading indicator” of changing duties and skills in the industry. My survey describes the present state of affairs, and it doesn’t do a good job predicting what the future will be or what hiring managers WANT the future to be.

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Reaction: Survey of Online Journalists

Written by Ryan Thornburg July 15, 2008 9:44 am EDT 1 comment

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?
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Journalism Programming: Supply and Demand

Written by Ryan Thornburg July 11, 2008 9:21 am EDT 1 comment

One of the reasons I’m so struck that online journalists in North Carolina have such an emphasis on traditional skills and duties is that it starkly contrasts with the skills I hear editors at top national sites tell me that they are looking for in recent j-school grads. The Knight Foundation believes that programmers are in such high demand in newsrooms today that they gave Northwestern $638,000 to fund nine full-ride scholarships for programmers who want to get a master’s degree in journalism at Medill.

One of the scholarship recipients, Brian Boyer, writes about his career prospects over at the MediaShift blog.

Listed below are the job titles he thinks are available to him. He’s most interested in becoming a “applications developer” or a “hacker journalist.” Are any of these jobs available in North Carolina?

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Traditional Concepts Most Important to Online Journalists

Written by Ryan Thornburg July 10, 2008 8:00 am EDT 2 comments

Once again in my survey of online journalists at North Carolina newspapers, we see a return to tradition. They say that news judgment and the ability to work under time pressure are the concepts that are most important to their jobs, while community management is far and away the least important of the 10 choices I gave them.

Also bringing up the rear of concepts that online journalists said were important to them: the ability to learn new technologies and awareness of new technologies.

And, interesting to note for those of us who teach students that it is more important to get it right than to get it first, the online journalists in my survey said that ability to work under time pressures was more important than attention to detail. As a group, they gave deadlines a higher average importance than details. As individuals, 63 percent of the respondents ranked time pressure more important than accuracy.

Oy vey.

At this point in my analysis, I have to conclude that one of two things is happening here:

  1. EITHER There is wide disparity between the skills, duties and concepts that I personally think should be emphasized in online newsrooms and in the skills, duties and concepts that are perceived as the most prominent and/or important in actual online newsrooms at North Carolina newspapers.
  2. OR This survey is totally FUBAR. Perhaps I asked the wrong questions of the wrong people.

To help me sort this out, I’m going to turn to a panel of experts — both in survey methodology and in online newsroom leadership. And, of course, your comments below are always helpful.

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Journalism Education: Training the Trainers

Written by Ryan Thornburg July 9, 2008 4:03 pm EDT No comments

Earlier today I wrote about the duties of online journalists. One of the underlying purposes of my survey is to find out how journalism schools can better prepare students for the near future, and there were two popular duties that stood out as “soft skills” that are not emphasized in classrooms — teaching and training other people in the newsroom, and “project management.”

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Tampa Tribune Reorganization

Written by Ryan Thornburg July 9, 2008 10:19 am EDT No comments

Update: Shannan Bowen does a nice job summarizing the recent online conversation about this topic. The highlight? It is dominated by young journalists determined to do good work.

I would like to thank the Tampa Tribune for helping demonstrate the importance of knowing how newsrooms are organized — what skills, duties and concepts are held at different staff positions, and how those positions relate to each other.

The Tribune’s reorganization memo was posted to Romenesko yesterday. Thanks to Paul Jones for the tip.

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Duties of the Online Journalist: ‘Writers’ and ‘Trainers’

Written by Ryan Thornburg July 9, 2008 8:00 am EDT 1 comment

As a group, online journalists in North Carolina spend more time writing original stories for the Web than doing anything else. But that’s because a few journalists spend most of their time on that one duty, while most online journalists spend their time on an average of nine different duties.

Many of them are spending time on duties that don’t have an immediate, direct effect on their Web site’s content. The task of training and teaching their colleagues is the duty that an online journalist is most likely to have performed at least once during the last three months.

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Skills of Online Journalists Skew Traditional

Written by Ryan Thornburg July 8, 2008 8:00 am EDT 3 comments

In my survey of online journalists at North Carolina newspapers, I asked respondents to describe their proficiency in each of 17 different skills. What I found was that although online journalists are relatively young, their strength as a group remains in traditional skills of news judgment, grammar and AP style.

Here’s a table of the results.

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Experience Levels of Online Journalists

Written by Ryan Thornburg July 7, 2008 8:00 am EDT 1 comment

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported the median age. (July 8, 1:16 p.m.)

In my survey of online journalists in North Carolina, I found that most have fewer than 10 years of experience in journalism.

The average years of experience was nearly 14, and the median was 10. But that’s because the years of experience ranged from one to 49.

The most frequent experience level was six years. Eleven percent of respondents reported they had done that much time in a newsroom.

Education Levels

  • At least an undergraduate degree: 82 percent:
  • Post-Graduate work: 19 percent
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What I'm reading

  • Email… Not “E-mail”: Yahoo Creates Style Guide for Web Content 2010/06/28
  • Open Government Data | National Data Catalog 2010/06/27
  • Google And Twitter Ask Court To Reconsider 'Hot News' 2010/06/24
  • YouTube - Diller Sees Readers Adapting to Paid Online Content: Video 2010/06/22
  • From the "Dollars to Data: Online Financial Tools and Civic Media" workshop on Flickr - Photo Sharing! 2010/06/22

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