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American Journalism Review
High Anxiety  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Features
From AJR,   February/March 2008

High Anxiety   

February/March A new survey shows journalists are very anxious about their futures as they struggle to learn new technology and worry about how long their jobs will be there.

By Kelly Wilson
Kelly Wilson (kwilson@ajr.umd.edu) is an AJR editorial assistant.      


This article and the survey it describes were funded by the Communications Workers of America.

Journalists are increasingly uneasy about the future, wondering if they can keep up with the meteoric pace of technology and whether their jobs will even exist much longer, a new survey shows.

The survey was sponsored by the Newspaper Guild and the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians, which are divisions of the Communications Workers of America. It was conducted online by the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.

The responses reflect apprehension about the future of the news industry overall and its values, says Guild President Linda Foley.

The results propelled discussion at the "Future of News Industry Jobs" conference cohosted by the journalism school and the guild-CWA in October (see Above the Fold, December/January). The survey drew responses from almost 1,300 people in the industry, including advertising and customer service. This article covers answers from 975 working journalists from print, broadcast and online media, 56 percent of them male, with an average age of about 46. Most had worked in their current jobs for six or more years.

Foley says her organization needs to treat the survey as a call for making things better rather than a portrait of impending doom.

"We wanted to really start thinking about how can we protect people," Foley says, "but also we wanted to look more toward the future and what we should anticipate and what can we contribute to make sure the industry .. remains viable and the jobs remain professional jobs."

Survey results from journalists show they are pessimistic about the future of their field. About 61 percent said their outlet's audience or readership has been shrinking over the past few years. When asked when audience size will stabilize, about three-quarters chose "it is hard to say it ever will."

The answers showed a mix of opinion about whether blogs should be counted as journalism. About 62 percent said they believe their audience wants a professional brand of news from trained journalists. But many doubted whether there would be jobs to support that brand. More print journalists about 43 percent said they do not feel confident that they will be working for a newspaper in five years, and about 30 percent were neutral on the question.

Changes in technology drive much of the worry about jobs and the future. About two-thirds agreed or strongly agreed with this statement: "I am anxious about increasing demands on me to learn and execute my job with new technology." Sixty percent indicated they need more training to do their jobs, especially with increasing workloads. And about half said they have recently seen people lose their jobs because of technology.

However, 65 percent admitted that changes in technology have allowed them to produce higher-quality work.

The results reflect bleak expectations for the future of industry values, based on questions gauging the difference between what respondents believe their organization has held important and what they expect to see five years from now. Accuracy was seen as the biggest casualty of change: 94 percent said accuracy was important when they started their jobs and 56 percent said it would be important in five years.

Expectations for values such as serving the public, timeliness and credibility also fell.

Only making a profit and attracting an audience were expected to be more important to news companies than they are now. For example, 71 percent of respondents said profit was a significant value when they started their jobs but 96 percent said it will be important to their company in five years.

Foley suggests the pessimism stems from changes in the workplace. In earlier days, she says, reporters came back to the newsroom to write stories after gathering the information they needed, and there they could bounce the story off coworkers. The resulting feeling of connection around the newsroom is missing in an age when reporters can file stories without ever meeting their coworkers, Foley says.

Foley says some results immediately jumped out at her. "One was how much time people spend on the Internet in terms of [work] for stories," she says, "and what that said to me is that it is no wonder citizens feel there's a big disconnect between journalists" and the audience.

About 57 percent said they spend one to two work-related hours a day on the Web. "Time online is time not talking to sources," Foley says.

The survey shows that the Guild needs to ensure that journalists who are asked to use new technology are provided the training they need to do so, she says. Also important: Guild pressure on news outlets for greater job security, she says.

"At all levels of this industry, from board room to mailroom or loading dock, no one has a really good idea of where this industry is going to go," she adds. "The only way we can get through this at all levels is to work together."

"No one who has been paying attention can really be surprised by the pessimism in the raw numbers," says Philip Merrill College of Journalism Dean Thomas Kunkel, who is also president of AJR. "But it's important to note that when you talk to the human beings behind the data, you're struck by how much they want to be part of the solution. It's no longer a question of journalists fighting change, they just want help in order to change with intelligence and journalistic integrity. And they would like to be consulted about that change rather than have it imposed on them by fiat.

"I think [Foley's] last point gets at the heart of it," Kunkel continued. "The industry needs to do a much better job of tapping this vast sea of expertise right in its own newsrooms." Kelly Wilson (kwilson4@umd.edu) is an AJR editorial assistant and a graduate student at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism. She wrote about Mother Jones' new Washington bureau in AJR's December/January issue.

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