Announcing: Online Newsroom Study

With the kind help of Phil Meyer, Ying Du and Sara Peach, I’ve just completed a survey of every person we could identify that works in online news production at newspapers in North Carolina. The results of the survey are in and I will be using this blog to share my notes and thoughts as I begin to cull through the numbers. I hope that by doing so, I’ll provoke some questions from you, dear reader, and some good ideas for further research.

The survey asked respondents specific questions about their own skills and duties of their daily work. It also asked them about their titles and the reporting structures of their organizations. I’ve been amazed at how little we really know — other than the hallway anecdotes at trade conferences — about how online newsrooms are organized. What, exactly, does a “producer” do? How do different skills and structures affect the product?

So, first, let me tell you a bit more about how we conducted the survey.

The survey aimed to identify everyone working in online news at daily newspapers in North Carolina. Sara Peach and I took two steps to identify them.

For the first step, we attempted to find an online masthead that listed staff members with job titles that explicitly indicated they worked in online media. We didn’t set any specific criteria for that, but we tried to be as broad in our definition as possible. Before setting out on that task, we reviewed the job descriptions that the Online News Association uses to categorize its members and we also looked at a list of 237 job titles and detailed descriptions that The Croner Company used in its 2007 Online Content and Service Compensation Survey.

For the second step, we made phone calls and sent e-mails to the highest level editorial staffer we could find online to ask for the names of people that worked online at his or her newspaper. During this step, we discovered that several newspapers that have Web sites have no dedicated online staff. Some editors at such newspaper told us that they contracted out the editorial production of the the Web site. Other told us that “everyone” worked on the site.

We know we didn’t get everyone. Significantly, we did not obtain the names of any online staffers at the Durham Herald-Sun, the most widely circulated paper that the N.C. Press Association puts in its “medium” category. We also missed two online staffers who work at the Hendersonville Times-News and one online staffer at the Statesville Record & Landmark.

Late in the survey, during follow-up calls to folks who hadn’t yet responded, we also learned of other online staff members who probably should have been included in our panel.

We also know that there are some panelists who we surveyed that may not have been part of our intended population. Several folks who had job titles that explicitly indicated they worked in online media — job titles that exactly matched other people who did respond — but told us they didn’t do any work online. Others had more generic job titles that made me think there was a good possibility they worked in an online editorial role, but they reported back that they worked in some other related role — perhaps online advertising or pure technical systems management.

We ended up sending surveys to 109 people at 29 of the state’s 48 dailies, including all of the state’s large dailies (those with circulations greater than 35,000) and all but two of the state’s medium (circulations between 15,000 and 35,000) papers that said they had at least one person working online.

We heard back from 70 people at all 29 papers.

Tomorrow, I’ll report a little bit more about who they are and what they said they do.

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