Duties of the Online Journalist: ‘Writers’ and ‘Trainers’

As a group, online journalists in North Carolina spend more time writing original stories for the Web than doing anything else. But that’s because a few journalists spend most of their time on that one duty, while most online journalists spend their time on an average of nine different duties.

Many of them are spending time on duties that don’t have an immediate, direct effect on their Web site’s content. The task of training and teaching their colleagues is the duty that an online journalist is most likely to have performed at least once during the last three months.

As part of my survey of journalists who work online at North Carolina newspapers, I asked them to tell me what percentage of their time during the previous three months they spent on each of 24 duties. As a group, here’s how they spend most of their time:

  • Writing Original Stories – 16%
  • Other Duties – – 9%
  • Editing Text for Content – 6%
  • Project Management – 6%
  • Blogging – 6%
  • Photo/Image Editing – 6%
  • Staff organization/administration – 5%
  • Training or teaching other staff – 5%
  • Writing headlines or blurbs – 4%
  • Working on business issues – 4%

It’s worth noting that the group is spending its time on an incredibly wide variety of tasks. There is no one duty that dominates online journalism. In some ways, this backs up the perception that online journalism is dominated by “multitasking” or by “backpack journalists” who are the jacks of all trade and masters of none.

But when you look at the numbers a little more closely at individuals, it appears as if there is a group of online journalists whose days are dominated by “traditional” tasks and another group of people who are doing the “new media stuff.”

On average, online journalists say they have had nine different duties at least once in the last three months. More often than anything else, a respondent said he or she had five different duties. And we see a wide range of responses for each duty — some people do that task a lot and some don’t do it at all.

Three duties stand out with very high modes — writing original stories for the Web, editing text for content and database design and management. Those jobs dominate the work lives of the people who do them. Among people who said they write original stories, the journalists were most likely to say they spent 75 percent of their time on that task. For content editing, the mode was 30 percent of their time. And for database work, the mode was 20 percent of their time. The modes for all other duties were less than 10 percent.

The folks who write original stories are overrepresented among journalists who have fewer than 10 different duties. They make up 42 percent of that group while making up 26 percent of the total sample.

So while you’re more likely to find an online journalist writing an original story than doing anything else, “teaching others” is the duty that an online journalist is most likely to say that he or she has done during the last three months.

Here are the duties done by the highest number of online journalist in North Carolina:

  • Training or teaching others in their newsroom: 39 journalists said they’d done this at least once during the last three months.
  • Writing headlines or blurbs: 37 said they’d done this.
  • Photo/image editing: 36 journalists.
  • Editing text for content: 33.
  • Project Management: 32.
  • Editing for grammar/style: 32.

In don’t know about you, but this looks like a field that is dominated by people who are reporters and copyeditors. We’ve seen this dominance of journalistic tradition now in job titles, skills and duties. Where’s the techtonic shift in newsrooms? Where are the mad scientists? The computer geeks? The innovation invasion?

Did I not ask the right questions? Did I not survey the right people? Is it a result of “the Gannett effect“? Are these changes not happening at small and mid-market newspapers? Are they just not happening in North Carolina? Or is this whole thing just a myth perpetuated by snake oil salesmen?

Are those skills not valued by hiring managers? Or are they just skills that are in high demand but short supply?

Stay tuned, dear reader. Stay tuned.

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