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Keeping Tabs on Trends in Newsroom Tech

Al Jazeera's newsroom in Qatar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Al Jazeera's newsroom in Qatar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What impact is technology having on the news business, and what role will it play in the future? To some experts, that is not a simple question, as the risks of abuse pose serious ethical and moral dilemmas. But for journalists themselves, technology is a must. 

According to the International Center for Journalists' 2019 survey of the State of Technology in Global Newsrooms, news organisations and their staff are embracing digital tools with more vigour than ever before. Of the 4,100 journalists and news managers surveyed in 149 countries, more than two-thirds believe "digital tools have a positive impact on their work" and "improve news quality and audience engagement." A slightly smaller majority believes that "digital tools increase productivity." 

These findings are a stark departure from just two years ago, when the ICFJ's 2017 survey found that most journalists were "struggling to keep pace with the digital revolution." Among the biggest changes over the last two years was a doubling of respondents who report using digital tools to secure their communications and to verify social media posts. As ICFJ President Joyce Barnathan notes: "There is a major shift afoot as news outlets come under attack digitally and physically." 

Still, while newsrooms are increasingly using technology to fend off attacks on one hand, and for uses such as audience engagement, social-media verification, fact-checking and investigative reporting on the other, most newsrooms are not sufficiently investing in tech staff or training. 

For example, the survey found that while training in video and audio production is common, workshops on topics like cybersecurity, podcasting and social-media marketing are rarely offered. The gap is widest in artificial intelligence; 42% of journalists surveyed say the want training in AI tools, while just 5% of newsrooms offer it.

(Source: ICFJ's 2019 survey of the State of Technology in Global Newsrooms).

Other notable trends include: 

  • Only 4% of newsroom employees are tech professionals, such as product developers, an increase from just 2% in 2017.

  • Newsroom managers and journalists are slightly more likely to hold a degree in a tech-related field in 2019 than they were in 2017. Compared to 5% two years ago, today 12% of newsroom managers and 8% of journalists hold a degree in a tech-related field.

  • Two-thirds of news organisations disseminate content in at least four formats – including through social media and messaging apps – a significant increase from the 40% that did so in 2017.

  • Hybrid newsrooms are increasing even as the number of traditional newsrooms shrink. Interestingly, growth in digital-only newsrooms was flat between 2017 and 2019.

So, what lessons can news organisations and journalists draw from these findings? Sava Tatić, Sourcefabric's Managing Director, says that as journalism's technology needs evolve, the industry must find new ways to deliver digital solutions that are cost-effective. One of the best ways to do that is through collaborative, open-source software development.

Tatić says: "Even as journalists increasingly embrace digital tools to do their work and connect with readers, news managers are often unable or unwilling to invest in innovation. That's why we work with journalists, for journalists, to make sure that affordable technology tools are available to newsrooms that need them."