My question today for my fellow North Carolinians: Do McClatchy’s layoffs create any journalistic slack? If so, who among you will pick it up?
In my survey of online news staffs at N.C. newspapers, we did notice that at least one person switched companies while the survey was in the field, perhaps adding some inaccuracy to our count. We didn’t detect any reduction in online staffs, but as noted in a story about the possibility of impending cuts at the News & Observer, it’s something of which newsroom census takers need to be aware, especially when using online mastheads as a guide.
According to a contact list published on the N&O’s Web site, the news operation numbers 224 people. However, due to attrition, a hiring freeze and recent departures, the number is now around 190.
I’ve not seen many of these massive newspaper job cuts reducing online staffs, although I have seen online newsrooms be used as safe landing zones for print staff looking to avoid layoffs (potentially reducing the number of “new” skills being infused in to traditional news organizations.) Although, I’ve also seen hiring freezes be used to update skill sets in online newsrooms as well. Typically, when that happens I see online news organizations slowing the hiring of people with traditional copyediting/production skills (the kind of which we see prevalent among North Carolina online newsrooms) and instead hiring people with more programming skills such as SQL, PHP or ActionScript.
Do you see similar trends?
In the survey of people who work online at N.C. newspapers, respondents were asked to categorize themselves by a general job field and then by a more specific job title. They could chose from 10 job fields and 84 titles. We selected these fields and titles from a list of 237 job titles and detailed descriptions that The Croner Company used in its 2007 Online Content and Service Compensation Survey. All 84 job titles and their detailed descriptions can be seen here.
I previously discussed the responses to the job field question. And, it’s no surprise that the high rate and sheer number of responses from the Asheville Citizen-Times also skews the job title findings toward the “writing” field. As we dig deeper in to the findings, it will be interesting to see what duties and skills those writers have — whether they tend toward the “traditional” or the “new”.
Overall, we had 56 people answer the question about their job titles. Those 56 people chose 24 different job titles for themselves. That comes out to 2.3 people per title, which doesn’t really help us in our quest to standardize titles. Bummer.
Including Asheville, the most popular job titles were:
- Writer – 14%
- Manager, Content – 11%
- Editor – 11%
- None of the Above – 9%
The remaining 55% of responses were scattered across 20 categories.
One of the reasons we’re doing this study is because its nearly impossible to tell from someone’s job title what they actually do in an online newsroom. If we don’t know what people do, we don’t know how to train them, hire them or judge their performance.
I definitely found some evidence of that in my survey. Of the 70 respondents, there were 55 different job titles that appeared on the paper’s masthead. Only four job titles appeared at more than one organization: content producer, general manager, online editor and online producer.
I’ll report later on some efforts to standardize these job descriptions and answer that burning question (OK, maybe not burning. Maybe smoldering.): What exactly IS a “producer,” anyway?
A quick tag cloud of all the words that appeared in the job titles of the 109 people we identified as working in online editorial content at N.C. newspapers. This idea was inspired by Eric Ulken of the L.A. Times, and programmed by TagCrowd.com
In my last post, I wondered whether the way that Gannet newspapers had changed job titles throughout its chain may have caused my survey of North Carolina online newspaper staffs to skew more “traditional” in their self-perception of the work they do. For your consideration and discussion, here’s some more proof of the “Gannett effect.”
In a survey of journalists who work online at newspapers in North Carolina, most described themselves as working in traditional fields of writing and editing rather than “new media” fields such as multimedia production.
The first thing I want to do today is to thank all of the respondents to my recent survey of people who work online at North Carolina newspapers. We had 70 people at 29 daily newspapers respond to the survey. This 64 percent response rate is very high, and I think the state’s journalists deserve credit. But I also need to give credit to Phil Meyer, who helped design the survey method and to Teresa Edwards in UNC’s Odum Institute for Research in Social Science. It also didn’t hurt that there is such widespread support in this state for the University of North Carolina and for the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. It’s been an honor to be affiliated with these institutions. And it’s an honor to have the chance to talk a little bit now about some of the hard working journalists in this state.
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.
Being a dude and being a child of the ’80s requires me to go see the new Indiana Jones movie this weekend. I liveÂ in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill region of North Carolina, one of the fastest growing regions in the country, and I wanted to find movie times.
Fifteen years ago I would have gone to the Chapel Hill News, the Durham Herald Sun, the Daily Tar Heel student paper, the Raleigh News & Observer, The Independent Weekly or The Spectator to get the times. Since movie times are commodity news, the paper I would have chosen would have been the one I found first — either at the bottom of my driveway or in a drop box on campus.
But here’s how I did it today:
- I searched for “southpoint durham movie times” on Google.
- My search returned 21,000 results, with 10 on the first page. Of those 10 choices, only one was to a newspaper site. I had six other choices before it.
What publisher of 165,000 daily circulation newspaper would have said, “It’s OK if every single one of our customers will walk by six other drop boxes before getting to ours”?
OK. The past is past. What should you do about it now?
- If you don’t have software that lets you easily see usage stats for your site, now is the time to get some. Many are free. Google Analytics is just one of many solutions. For the moneybags among you, Omniture is a popular (and I think good) choice.
- Look at your site usage statistics and determine at what percentage of referrers come from Google. See whether there are differences in behavior for different types of content on your site.
- Start getting serious about search engine optimization. And by “serious,” I mean this: Are you dedicating the same (or more) resources to search engine optimization and social network marketing as you are to your print circulation department? Until you are, you’re just hoping this Internet fad will soon pass.
Several participants from the N.C. Newspaper Academy earlier this month in Chapel Hill wanted to know more about dealing with comments on articles. At their request I’ve created another in my series of simple one-page “how to’s” of online journalism.
The other One Page guides from this series can be found here.