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Media teams strive to adapt, but struggle to keep pace with digital

October 11, 2017 | By Michelle Manafy, Editorial Director – DCN @michellemanafy

A study conducted by International Center for Journalists survey set out to answer a critical question: Are journalists keeping pace with the digital revolution? Despite making strides in leveraging new technologies, the study concluded that the answer is no.

The State of Technology in Global Newsrooms takes a deep look at the adoption of digital technologies at a wide range of news media organizations worldwide. Working with Georgetown University, the International Center for Journalists conducted the study in 12 languages, and received more than 2,700 responses from journalists and newsroom managers in 130 countries.

Key takeaways include:
  • Newsrooms still face a deep technology gap.
  • Digital journalism has made some substantial gains.
  • In an era when fake news and hacking have proliferated, too few journalists are taking the proper precautions.
  • While most newsrooms find it challenging to gain trust with their audiences, there are two major exceptions.
  • New revenue models are emerging, but not fast enough.
  • Newsrooms have yet to fully embrace analytics data to make decisions.
  • Journalism is a young person’s profession.
  • The digital training journalists want is not what their newsrooms think they need.
Today’s media organizations

The report examines technological investment, use, and staffing across different types of newsrooms in the digital age. ICFJ identified three newsroom types based on their primary distribution platforms:

  1. Traditional news organizations, which disseminate information primarily in the legacy formats of newspaper, television, print magazines, and radio. Though these organizations may have a website or some digital presence, their primary platform is a traditional format.
  2. Digital-only news organizations that exclusively publish in an online format.
  3. Hybrid news organizations, which use a combination of traditional and digital formats. Many hybrid organizations have transitioned from being traditional news outlets.

The report finds that digital-only and hybrid newsrooms are outpacing traditional media in most of the world. In fact, according to the ICFJ, news organizations that disseminate content primarily in traditional print, television, and radio formats are disappearing from the global media landscape. Overall, the majority of journalists surveyed work for news organizations that are either fully digital (33%) or a hybrid of traditional and online (40%). About one-quarter are employed by traditional news organizations.

Distribution strategies

Today’s newsrooms have access to a multitude of new platforms and formats — from social media to mobile apps to virtual reality, which they use to distribute their stories and reach wider audiences. Though the range of tools has expanded, the news industry relies heavily on the two social media giants: Facebook and Twitter.

Though digital-only and hybrid newsrooms are more likely to use Facebook, traditional organizations (which use digital but not as a primary distribution format) are not very far behind. Three-quarters of traditional newsrooms reported using the social media site to push out content, compared to 93% of digital-only and 91% of hybrid.

Staffing up

Hybrid organizations are the most likely to cut their newsroom staffs, with 41% reporting that their staff size has decreased in the past year. Traditional newsrooms are a close second, at 38%. Digital-only newsrooms are at the opposite end of the spectrum, with only 17% reporting that their staff size has decreased, compared to the 50% that reported adding more staff members.

Digital-only newsrooms are also more likely to have older personnel – in the 51-55 age group – than both their traditional and hybrid counterparts. Traditional newsrooms also have a higher percentage of staff in the 25-29 age group than hybrid ones, following digital-only newsrooms in this category.

Hybrid and digital-only newsrooms are more likely than traditional newsrooms to have digital content producers/editors and tech professionals on staff, though the number of these positions remains small compared to established roles.

The study shows that many journalists are hired into their positions without experience working in digital media or significant digital skills. While on-the-job-training remains an essential tactic for staff-strapped media newsrooms. However, news professionals almost universally agree that training is important to help them meet the demands of their job.

As the report points out, the digital era is forcing newsrooms to adapt to a constantly evolving space. They face an array of major challenges, including shifting revenue models, attracting loyal advertisers, engaging audiences, and developing new storytelling formats. While journalists (and the media organizations they work for) continue to experiment with a range of digital tools, the report makes it clear that continued investment, innovation, and development of the digital skillset is required.

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