Summary: Dissertation

At the crossroads of crisis: Newspaper journalists’ struggle to redefine themselves and their work as their organizations and the profession change

An exploration of the effect of technological and economic changes on newspaper journalists’ job satisfaction and how those beliefs affect their identification with their organizations and the profession

Abstract: Newspaper journalists in 2010, when this research was conducted, found themselves at the nexus of a changing media landscape. Their professional principles and job roles were being challenged by changes in the technology they use, changes in the economic model that has supported the industry since this nation was founded, and changes in public attitudes and perceptions of newspaper journalists.

This study examined these changes through the lens of social identity theory. It explored how technological and economic changes have affected newspaper journalists’ perceptions about the ways they are able to perform their jobs and their perceptions about threats to the status of the profession, and how those beliefs affect their identification with their newspaper organizations and the profession.

Most of the data for this study was collected in a national web-based survey of journalists working at daily newspapers with circulations of more than 10,000. In-depth interviews were conducted with 12 survey participants who volunteered to be interviewed.

The findings included that journalists who have negative perceptions about changes in the newspaper industry will be more likely to have negative feelings about the impact of those changes on their jobs, and that journalists with negative feelings about those changes on their will be more likely to have lower organizational identification. Professional identification was found to partially mediate this relationship, in large part because it has a considerable overlap with journalists’ organizational identification.

This study also found that journalists who have negative perceptions about changes in the industry were more likely to perceive the status of the profession has been threatened, and that journalists who perceive those status threats were more likely to have lower professional identification. Additionally, journalists’ job type and circulation size of their newspaper affected some of these relationships, such as the link between negative feelings about technological and economic changes and lower organizational identification.

Demographics

  • Almost 930 U.S. newspaper journalists completed the survey in 2010
  • Journalists who completed the survey worked at daily newspapers with circulations of +10,000
  • Frontline workers/non-managers (such as reporters, copy editors and photographers) accounted for 58% of participating journalists while 38% identified themselves as managers whose jobs included managing editor, editor in chief and publisher. Fewer than 5% said their jobs fell into other categories

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Job satisfaction

  • The mean job satisfaction was 4.71 on a 7-point scale
  • In general, newspaper journalists were only moderately satisfied with their jobs
  • When asked where they thought they would be working in two years, two-thirds (66%) of journalists expected still be at their newspaper

Job roles

  • Importance of newspaper journalists’ job roles was factor-analyzed into three key groupings: Uphold journalism principles; Serve as interpreter & watchdog; Be autonomous & develop professionally

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Impact of technological & economic changes

  • Nearly three-quarters (74%) of newspaper journalists worked more than 40 hours per week and the majority believed technological and economic changes at their organizations had resulted in a greater workload
  • More than four-fifths (84%) of newspaper journalists reported workers in their newsrooms had been laid off in the past two years
  • Journalists believed their ability to perform the top three job roles (Getting stories covered that should be covered, Being objective and Being a watchdog for the public) all declined when technological and economic changes were taken into account
  • Overall, journalists saw technological changes as less of a detriment to their job roles than economic change. They were generally positive about the effect of technological changes on the quality of their work

Connection to news organization

  • On a scale of 15, the mean score for organizational identification was 8.98. Organizational identification is generally recognized as being a better measure of an employee’s connection to his/her work organization than job satisfaction
  • Frontline journalists (reporters & other non-managers) had lower OI than managers, with means of 8.76 and 9.36 respectively on a 15-point scale. This was a statistically significant difference
  • Journalists with negative views of economic and technological change at their newspaper were more likely to feel less connected to their organization

Connection to journalism profession

  • On a scale of 15, the mean score for professional identification was 9.15. Professional identification measures the connection a practitioner feels to his/her profession
  • Frontline journalists and managers did not have statistically significant differences in their levels of PI, which were 9.17 and 9.14 respectively on a 15-point scale
  • Journalists in this study had higher levels of professional identification than organizational identification. In other words, they felt more strongly connected to their identity as journalists in the newspaper industry than as journalists at a particular organization
  • The relationship between feelings about the effect of recent changes on job roles and organizational identification is partially mediated by professional identification, meaning that a journalist’s connection to the profession has some influence on the extent of his/her connection to a news organization

Implications for managers

  • The significant overlap of professional identification and organization identification may enable news organizations to “borrow” from professional identification and transfer news workers’ positive feelings to the organization by highlighting the ways in which the organization allows journalists to fulfill professional norms
  • Journalists reported that technology helped the quality of their work and these feelings likely would have been greater without the impact of economic changes occurring at the same time
  • Workers will respond more positively to changes, including technology, if the usefulness of these changes in doing their work is communicated effectively. Workers also are somewhat willing to accept an increase in workloads related to technology if they believe it improves the quality of work

Citation: Amber Willard Hinsley. (2010). At the crossroads of crisis: Newspaper journalists’ struggle to redefine themselves and their work as their organizations and the profession change. Austin, TX: University of Texas at Austin.

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