ASNE survey looks at tech's impact on the editor's job
Newsroom editors are working longer hours, studying up on technology in their off time, and spending less time on what had been the core functions of their jobs, according to a recent ASNE survey. The challenges and opportunities posed by the news industry's increased focus on digital content development and related technology has profoundly affected the traditional role editors have played in newsrooms, according to the survey.
Chris Peck is ASNE treasurer-elect, chair of the ASNE Technology Committee and editor of The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn. A slightly different version of this report appeared on The Commercial Appeal website on Jan. 9, 2011.
Six out of 10 editors responding to a survey by the American Society of News Editors say they spend fewer hours on planning and discussing news coverage or working directly with their staffs.
What's happened to that time? In a word, technology.
Thirty percent of the newsroom leaders responding to the ASNE survey say they are spending between 4 to 8 hours a week on technology. Another 25 percent of the editors say they are now spending 9 to 12 hours or more on new technology issues.
Overall, the editors say they are working longer hours, studying up on technology in their off time, and spending less time on what had been the core functions of their jobs.
The challenges and opportunities posed by the news industry's increased focus on digital-content development and related technology has profoundly affected the traditional role editors have played in newsrooms, according to the ASNE survey.
The landmark survey by ASNE's Technology Committee comes at a time of momentous change within the news industry. Paid circulation is flat, advertising revenues are down, yet the overall audience for news is up and growing for most newspapers when they factor in their Web audiences and soon, audiences built on smart phones and tablets like the iPad.
The survey shows that editors are keenly aware of the changing dynamics of the industry, but are still struggling to find the best path forward to a digital future.
For example, when asked whether technology had actually improved day-to-day news coverage in their markets, the editors were divided.
About 53 percent say the focus on digital delivery and technology has improved coverage. But another 33 percent say technology-related issues actually has hurt news coverage because they take time and effort away from core newsroom functions. The remainder say coverage has stayed about the same.
Raju Narisetti, a managing editor at The Washington Post and one of more than 150 top editors who completed the survey, worries that some editors are more interested in staying in their comfort zone than in truly embracing the new technology. “I would bet that news coverage has been hurt mostly because editors, rather than deal with fewer reporters, setting coverage priorities and measuring performance, are hung up on finding excuses,” he says.
An ASNE webinar to discuss the impact of new technology on newsroom leaders is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 3 at 2 p.m. Eastern.
Print editors say they are challenged to find enough digitally savvy staffers and to get buy-in from their current staffs on the need to view learning new technologies as integral to the future of journalism.
Only 15 percent of the print editors say their staffs have a deep and wide pool of staffers with digital knowledge: Fifty-one percent say their news operations are thin on digital-knowledge workers.
And, while 63 percent of the print editors say their staffs are mostly on board in terms of embracing the digital side of the news business, more than1 in 3 editors say, at best, only half of their staffs are fully engaged in the new technology.
Jack McElroy, editor of The Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel, wonders what the slow adopters in newsrooms are thinking. “Technology does create some tension in the newsroom,” McElroy acknowledges. “But we are in a time of transition, advancing in fits and starts, and sometimes I wonder what (the slow adopters) would have said about printing presses and telephones being central to their jobs.”
The editors are nothing if not confident in their own abilities to lead the increasingly digital newsrooms of the future. About eight in 10 say they are very confident or somewhat confident that they can lead a newsroom into the digital age. And eight in 10 say that wrestling with these technology issues will, in the longer run, make them better and more effective at what they do in newsrooms.
Today's editors are cautiously optimistic about the impact the up-and-coming digital generation will have on newsrooms. About 20 percent of the editors responding are very worried that digital tools will make professional journalism less relevant to futures readers, and only 17 percent are very confident that journalists of the future will share the same values as traditional journalism, such as fact-based reporting, verification, and keeping personal opinions out of their work.
But overall, eight out of 10 editors believe professional news-gathering will continue unfazed in the digital world, or improve the work of journalists.
Margaret Freivogel, editor of the online-only St. Louis Beacon, believes editors don't have to be worried about journalistic values migrating to digital platforms. “We have a golden opportunity to combine the strengths of traditional journalism with the power of new technology,” she says. “It won't happen by accident and it won't happen if we hold rigidly to old habits instead of figuring out how to apply old values to new circumstances. But I share the optimism that good journalists will not only survive, but thrive.”
Editors from more than 150 American newspapers and online-only news organizations participated in the survey, conducted by ASNE in October and November.
Editors' use of technology survey results