Newsroom leaders resigned yet determined, ASNE-API survey shows
Editors around the country are frustrated by financial pressures, mandates beyond their control and constantly shifting goals. But they are determined to weather the storm, do good journalism and come out stronger on the other side, according to the results of a joint research survey released today by the American Press Institute and the American Society of News Editors.
RESTON, VA – Editors around the country are frustrated by financial pressures, mandates beyond their control and constantly shifting goals. But they are determined to weather the storm, do good journalism and come out stronger on the other side, according to the results of a joint research survey released today by the American Press Institute and the American Society of News Editors.
The editors put good journalism -- quality writing and editing, investigative and enterprise reporting, serving the community and defending the First Amendment -- squarely at the top of their leadership priorities.
“The affirmation that editors can stay focused on good journalism as they wrestle with spreadsheets and new technology isn't unexpected,” said Linda Grist Cunningham, vice chair of ASNE's Leadership Development Committee, who retired as executive editor from the Rockford (Ill.) Register Star in May to develop and launch a media company called Key West Watch. “But it certainly is reassuring.”
The top-ranked challenge facing editors is maintaining quality writing and editing despite budget and staffing cuts. Almost 84 percent ranked it as “very important” over the next year to 18 months. Add those who said it was “important” and the total is almost 100 percent of news executives.
“These journalism leaders' top priority dovetails perfectly with that of other industry executives,” said Carol Ann Riordan, interim executive director of the American Press Institute, which partnered with ASNE on the survey, which will be used to shape customized training for top news executives over the next year. “That should bode well for our industry future.”
Newsroom leadership and company leadership share that top priority, Riordan added, referring to surveys of top industry executives conducted by API in 2009 and 2010. In 2009, maintaining quality writing and editing was the highest ranked priority among publishers of North American dailies. In 2010, it placed second, coming behind the challenge to “improve sales force effectiveness and performance.”
There was a strong sense of pragmatism running through the ASNE-API survey responses. These were news editors who are acutely aware of the fiscal challenges facing the industry and the competitive and transformative platforms in play.
They are searching for new systems and processes to get the jobs done, and they know they need the right people with the right skills in place.
“The survey demonstrates that the nation's news editors are forging a sustainable path for local journalism and community service,” said Mizell Stewart III, editor of the Evansville (Ind.) Courier & Press and chair of ASNE's Leadership Development Committee.
Executives outside newsrooms historically have been removed from what journalists do, and the respondents felt that the disconnect is greater today. Editors know the costs in time, staff and resources to gather, sort, analyze and deliver news and information -- and they are troubled, according to survey results, by financial decisions beyond their control.
The news leaders said their number two priority was to “redefine roles, strategies and tactics for moving newsrooms from once-a-day print publishing to continuously updated, 24/7 news and information.” Fifty-five percent rated that as “very important,” and 89.7 percent said it was “important” or “very important.”
At number three was the challenge to “exploit mobile opportunities as a way of distributing content and building audience.” Fifty-two percent rated that as “very important” and another 32.4 percent said it was “important.”
The API-ASNE survey was distributed to ASNE members and nonmember editors. About 60 percent of respondents were ASNE members. Forty-six percent of respondents represented news organizations with a daily circulation of 50,000 or less. Most newspapers in the United States are under 50,000 circulation.
ASNE's Leadership Development Committee will use the results to shape regional workshops for top news executives. The first will be held in Lexington, Ky., in October.