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Flexibility is the new norm in newsrooms

Many media businesses are moving beyond the concept of “hybrid” working and focusing on flexibility to optimize collaboration and individual performance.

January 8, 2024 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

News organizations worldwide are adjusting their operational approaches in response to external shifts and internal dynamics. Reuters Institute’s annual report, Changing Newsrooms, explores these evolving newsrooms. They gathered insights from surveys and in-depth interviews with 135 senior industry leaders from 40 countries worldwide. The respondents include editors-in-chief/executive editors, CEOs, managing editors, and other senior positions in editorial, audience, talent development, and commercial.

Reuters’ research reveals a notable trend in adopting flexible work models among newsroom leaders, with 65% implementing varying rules. Within this landscape, 15% of the sampled organizations extend complete flexibility to employees, allowing them to choose their work location and work from home. However, a more common scenario shows half of the sample (52%) offering only some flexibility to their employees.

Approximately 30% of participants noted that their organizations require employees to be in the office on specific weekdays with strict enforcement. However, 22% report no active monitoring to verify adherence to this policy. Notably, 38% of respondents express concerns about a weakened sense of belonging due to hybrid and flexible working arrangements.

Like last year’s findings, many survey participants believe the shift to hybrid and flexible working has had a limited impact on productivity. Specifically, 48% express that productivity has remained unchanged, while 26% believe it has increased. Notably, a minority of 19% indicate that flexible and hybrid working has decreased productivity.

Retiring “hybrid work” and embracing flexibility

The report cites Brian Elliott from Future Forum advocating for retiring the term “hybrid work” in favor of embracing a more “flexible” approach. He emphasizes that employees seek the freedom to work where and when they perform best—a blend of team collaboration and individual autonomy. Many companies, he notes, opt for simplistic solutions rather than restructuring their practices for a truly distributed workforce.

AI adoption and adaptation

The research also explores how global news organizations adapt to external changes and internal dynamics, focus on talent strategies, and cultivate inclusive cultures. Three-quarters of respondents (74%) believe generative AI will enhance productivity without fundamentally changing journalism, while 21% foresee transformative effects.

Regarding establishing high-level principles governing the use of generative AI in news organizations, just over one-third of respondents (39%) mentioned that their organization is actively developing these principles. In comparison, 29% already have some guidelines in place. One-fifth (21%) stated that they are contemplating such principles but have yet to implement them.

Although a considerable number have either developed or are in the process of developing high-level principles, only 16% have detailed guidelines in place for the specific use of generative AI. Thirty-five percent are currently working on formulating these guidelines, and 30% are in the consideration phase.

Diversity challenges and strategies

Challenges persist in navigating the evolving newsroom landscape. While 90% feel their organizations excel in gender diversity, numbers drop for political (55%), disabilities (54%), and ethnic (52%) diversity. Further, 43% have a systematic strategy for diversifying talent acquisition, but systematic approaches are less common for retaining talent and reflecting diversity in stories produced.

Diverse talent acquisition remains a significant challenge, cited by 57% of respondents. Retaining diverse talent, prioritizing diversity, and understanding its value are additional hurdles. The report underscores the need for structured plans to address these challenges systematically.

This research provides a comprehensive snapshot of the evolving newsroom landscape: flexible work models, generative AI, and diversity initiatives present challenges and opportunities. As news organizations adapt to external forces, the report highlights the importance of flexibility, strategic planning and systematic approaches to foster an inclusive, innovative newsroom culture.

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