Newspapers’ Shift to Digital Too Slow?

The Media Management Center, Northwestern University, recently published “Life Beyond Print: Newspaper Journalists’ Digital Appetite” which found almost half of today’s newspaper journalists think their newsroom’s transition to digital is moving too slowly. Most newspaper journalists have warmed to the idea that news will be primarily delivered online and via mobile devices, rather than print, for the remainder of their careers. Whatever the reason for newspapers being slow to adapt to digital delivery, it’s clear journalist resistance isn’t the source.

According to the study which included almost 3,800 people in a cross-section of newspaper newsrooms, America’s journalists want a faster shift from print to digital delivery of news. Many of the journalists interviewed reported being heavily involved in digital activities in their personal lives and would devote more effort to digital products at work. Only 20% of journalists like things the way they have always been.

Six Types of Journalists

The study went further to identify profiles of the six types of journalists inhabiting the typical newsroom of 2009. The six types are:

  • “Digitals” – 12% of the workforce who spend a majority of their efforts online today
  • Turn Back the Clock” – 6% who long for the day when print was king
  • “Moderately More” – 50% want closer to an equal split of digital and print
  • “Status Quo” – 14% believe the 30% of the time they spend on digital now is enough
  • “Major Shift” – 11% would devote five times their current effort to online if given the chance
  • “Leaders” – 5% are editors, publishers and managing editors who have been in news a long time and want to move to digital

Journalists Still Love Their Jobs But Admit Uncertainty

Despite layoffs and changing working conditions, not to mention having more work, less time, and less help, most journalists still love their jobs. According to the survey:

  • 77% of journalsits are somewhat or very satisfied with their current jobs
  • 67% think it somewhat or very likely they will be in the news business two years from now
  • 59% think they’ll likely be with their same newspaper

What’s interesting here is that there is some cross-over between those that expect to be at the same job, but doing something different other than “news” two years from now. While it’s not clear what they think they’ll be doing, it is clear that they are more receptive than ever to digital initiatives.

One Fast-Mover Towards Digital

These findings couldn’t come at a better time, as leading newspapers like the New York Times have increased their efforts to shift towards digital. Bill Keller, the executive editor, recently gave a presentation at Nieman Journalism Lab about the Times’ seven digital priorities, signaling the fact that at least one paper is taking the shift seriously. The priorities were presented as “questions that loom largest at the moment” and represent the issues most newspaper publishers are dealing with today, including:

  • What is the role of “topics” or “living articles” for the paper?
  • How open should content be, what non-paper content should be integrated, and how should social media be integrated?
  • How should print and digital operations be integrated?
  • How can technologists collaborate with the newsroom?
  • How can the paper make the shift to “web first”?
  • How can the paper better integrate with mobile devices?
  • How can the paper improve engagement on pages?

These are some big issues for any organization to tackle and they do a good job at painting the picture of why shifting from print to digital is more difficult than it sounds. The good news is papers appear to be picking up the pace and there are happily-employed journalists chomping at the bit to get their crack at more digital work.

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