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Bridging the Digital Divide in the Newsroom

The International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) launched the first-ever global survey on the adoption of new technologies in news media to answer that question. A total of 2,781 respondents in 130 countries — 2,053 journalists and 728 newsroom managers — completed the survey. 

“Helping journalists do better journalism goes hand in hand with technology,” said Sharon Moshavi, Senior Vice President of New Initiatives at ICFJ. 

The survey showed that there is still a large gap between the development of new technologies and their adoption in the newsroom, as well as the skills journalists need to use them effectively.

We spoke with Sharon Moshavi to get a better understanding of what the survey showed about three areas of newsroom technology in particular: newsroom workflow, content management systems (CMS) and newsroom tech teams.

Newsroom workflow

Many news organisations include distributed teams working in multiple time zones as well as contractors working outside the newsroom itself. That in itself is not new; news agencies have had overseas bureaus and stringers in the field for as long as the model of news wires have existed. 

What is different today may be the expectation that having more digital tools means more collaboration. Yet the survey showed that almost half the journalists said they still work independently for the most part. Reporters in hybrid traditional-digital news organisations (61%) said they are the most likely to collaborate in their newsrooms. Ultimately, however, it’s not a question of how digitally focused an organisation is or which tools they are using. “It comes down to people. A tool is only as good as the person who is using it,” said Moshavi. At the same time, she notes that a logical workflow can go a long way toward making everyone’s life in the newsroom easier.  

Technology teams by newsroom type. (courtesy ICFJ)

Technology teams by newsroom type. (courtesy ICFJ)

CMS

Questions about how to best set up an editorial production system make CMSes a hot topic. About 85% of media organizations around the world employ some kind of CMS in their newsrooms, according to the survey. Among the options of using a proprietary platform, an open-source tool or a custom CMS, the latter choice was the most common. In all, 40% of news organisations use a custom CMS, with all-digital (31%) and hybrid (39%) newsrooms more likely to build their own than traditional (16%) newsrooms. 

Some newsroom managers also reported using more than one CMS, suggesting that they are not finding such newsroom systems fit for purpose, even when they are developed in house. The technology know-how residing in news organisations is also quite limited, as revealed by another part of the survey.

Technology teams by newsroom type. (courtesy ICFJ)

Technology teams by newsroom type. (courtesy ICFJ)

Newsroom tech teams

The most common kind of tech teams in news organisations today are dedicated to the outward-facing part of their operations: two-thirds of newsrooms worldwide have a dedicated social media and audience engagement team, second only to IT/website management. By contrast, the least common type of tech teams are product/app development and UX design (less than 25%), which is also where journalists report having the least interaction with their organisation’s technologists.

Technology teams by newsroom type. (courtesy ICFJ)

Technology teams by newsroom type. (courtesy ICFJ)

“The data suggests that when it comes to the technologies of engagement, newsrooms are stopping at social media. There is still a long way to go when it comes to app dev and UX,” said Moshavi.

That may not be surprising in light of the data point that only 5% of people in newsrooms have a background in technology.

What this part of the survey also revealed is that most newsroom roles are still limited to traditional editorial job titles such as reporter, editor and newsroom manager. Of the 15-20% of job roles that are digitally focused, most are new positions such as social media editor or digital content producer. Meanwhile, about half of the journalists being hired into their jobs have no digital background.

“While the data shows the need for more people with a tech background, there’s also a huge need to improve the skills of the journalists who are there. And here there is a big gap between the kind of training that journalists want and what the management is offering,” said Moshavi.

Journalists by and large want training on topics that promise to make the craft of storytelling more compelling, like data journalism, or that help them present their stories online in new ways, such as web coding and development. By contrast, the training offered by management is aimed at making the organisation more productive, such as producing and distributing stories in multiple platforms or collaboration across different areas of the newsroom.

“Both those needs have to be addressed to create the newsroom of the future,” said Moshavi. “We need engaging storytelling, but someone also needs to look at the bottom line if a newsroom is going to survive.”

Read the highlights of the ICFJ survey or download the full report.

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