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Convergence or Replacement?


Convergence or Replacement?

How and Where New Media and Traditional Journalism Skills Meet in Newsrooms

Ryan Thornburg

Assistant Professor

School of Journalism and Mass Communication

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

March 2009

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The newspaper industry in the United States is undergoing a fundamental change that is

affecting the structure and composition of newsrooms. Newspaper circulation has declined every

year since 1993 and overall circulation has been reduced to 1975 levels1. More and more

Americans are getting their news online, although the percentage who do so has flattened in the

last two years after a decade of rapid growth.2

Newspapers are adjusting to these trends by making changes in their newsrooms. The

changes that seem to have received the most attention are the massive layoffs across the industry.

At the newspapers with the 100 largest circulations, more than 6,300 employees lost their jobs

through buyouts or layoffs between August 2007 and August 2008.3 According to a recent

survey of editors, 59 percent of newspapers have reduced full-time newsroom staff over the last

three years. More than half of the newspapers with circulations greater than 100,000 have cut

between 10 and 19 percent of their newsroom staffs.4

On the other hand, newspapers are continuing to bolster their online staffs – or at least

holding the number of online staffers flat. In the same survey, 57 percent of editors said they’d

increased staff dedicated to “Web-only editing” over the last three years and 63 percent said their

papers said they had more videographers. In fact, these are the only two job functions at which a

majority of papers have added staff.

Amid overall staff cuts and a refocusing of editorial resources to online functions,

newspapers have primarily three options for meeting these two objectives – they can completely

re-define the jobs of employees so that they are working entirely for the Web site, they can add

online duties to the existing print responsibilities of traditionally trained journalists, or they can

hire new staff that already have skills such as videography and Web-only editing.

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For at least the last 15 years, newspaper industry groups have bemoaned the lack of

investment that newspaper companies put in to training their employees.5 While the national

average of training investment across all industries is 2.3 percent of payroll, newspapers spend

0.4 percent of payroll on training.6

With such a comparatively low rate of investment in training – and trend that existed

even before online publishing became a widespread force in the news industry – newspapers are

left to obtain new media skills from college students entering the work force for the first time. At

least one survey seems to indicate that these recent graduates are doing more and more work

online, and that recent journalism graduates working online are paid more than their peers. Two-

thirds of people who were working full-time at daily newspapers and had received a bachelor’s

degree in journalism in 2007 are writing or editing for the Web.7 The average salary, according

to the same survey, of a 2007 graduate working online was $37,400, compared to $30,000 for all

2007 journalism graduates. And the demand for young journalists to write and edit for the Web

is growing. In the 2004 survey of graduates, only 22.6 percent said they were doing that task.8

This demand for new skills – and the expectation that newsrooms will acquire these new

skills through the hiring of young staff – is evident in the quote from one editor in the Project for

Excellence in Journalism’s survey about the changing newsroom. When asked to cite the

newsroom change that most contributed to his or her ability to be competitive, one anonymous

editor said, “New young reporters and editors who bring new skills and outlooks to those who

have been here a long time.”9

Journalism schools have been responding to this expectation for at least the last decade.

From 1998 to 2002, about 60 percent of U.S. journalism schools redesigned their curricula or

developed new courses to prepare students for producing news in multiple media.10 An October

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2002 survey indicated that about 85 percent of undergraduate journalism programs had begun to

change their curricula to respond to an industry desire for new skills such as writing for multiple


Much of the trade press coverage of changing newsroom structures has emphasized

changes at papers with the largest circulation sizes — such as The New York Times, The

Washington Post, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal – and large metro newspapers with

circulations above 100,000. However, most of the daily newspapers in the United States have

much smaller circulations. These newspapers – with smaller circulations, smaller revenues and

smaller staff sizes – might be dealing with this apparent desire for new newsroom skills in a

much different way. We know, for example, that editors at large newspapers and editors at small

newspapers view differently the promise and risks of how the Web will impact their


Previous research has also focused primarily on the opinions that editors and educators

have about the current and future affects of convergence and online journalism. There has been

very little investigation in to the actual duties of online journalists, or the skills and concepts

used every day by people working online at daily newspapers. Much of it been ethnographic


The distinction between what editors say they want and what online journalists actually

do may be significant. Research done on European newsrooms indicates that there is a

discrepancy between the ideals of online journalists and their actual practices.14 And surveys of

online journalists in the United States suggest that traditional skills such as copyediting and

writing may be more prevalent among the online staff of daily newspapers than any of the new

media skills that educators and editors say are so important.15

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This research, based on a survey of 108 journalists who work online at daily newspapers

in North Carolina, seeks to fill those two gaps in our understanding of how new media skills,

duties, and concepts are making their way from the classroom in to the newsroom. By more

broadly defining the survey sample to include all online journalists and not just newsroom or

industry leaders, we seek to include the opinions of employees at smaller dailies. And by asking

the journalists themselves what they do every day – what are their skills and duties – this

research helps us better understand the world in to which journalism educators are sending their

convergence-trained graduates – at least today.

As Carole Leigh Hutton, executive editor of the San Jose Mercury News, said in an

article for the American Journalism Review, “‘Everyone here knows that the position they hold

today may not be the position they hold in six months. I make no commitment that there will be a

business editor or a sports editor or a city editor, because that may not be what we need.’”16

Journalism is changing, and editors and educators clearly expect new journalists to play a

role in that change. This survey contributes to our understanding of the mix of traditional and

new media skills that are found among online journalists, and whether new additions to the work

force are replacing traditional skills and values with new ones, or whether they are adding new

media skills and duties to the traditional skills and duties that existed long before the Web.


Since 2005, the word “integration” has been a frequent sibling to the twin words of

“layoff” and “buyout” in general and industry news coverage of newspapers. Between 2005 and

2008, 59 percent of American newspapers cut editorial staff and 27 percent held their staff at the

same size. Among papers with circulations of more than 100,000 copies, 85 percent cut staff

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during those three years.17

“Integration” has referred to the unification of the online and print staffs at daily

newspapers. John Halle, founding partner of Chicago's Inside Out Media Partners, has called this

type of integration “complete convergence,” in which there is “a single business operating with

multiple platforms: common management, ads sold across multiple media, and a shared news

operation.”18 This has also been called economic, market or industrial convergence.19

Leading the way in this trend were the nation’s largest newspapers – USA Today, The

Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.20 The New York Times kicked off this trend

toward integrating its online and print staffs in August 2005, when Executive Editor Bill Keller

and Senior Vice President for Digital Operations Martin Nisenholtz said their goal was “to

diminish and eventually eliminate the difference between newspaper journalists and Web

journalists.”21 USA Today followed shortly on the heels of The New York Times, announcing in

December 2005 that it would merge the print and online staffs by promoting the organization’s

top online editor, Kinsey Wilson, to become a second executive editor who would, with existing

Executive Editor John Hillkirk, have joint responsibilities for both media.22

This trend continued through 2007, with major metropolitan newspapers such as the

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the San Jose Mercury News23 and the Orlando Sentinel24

reorganizing their newsrooms to streamline editorial decision-making and focus more efforts on

their Web sites. Internationally, the BBC News illustrated this trend toward simultaneous

integration and cost-cutting when Peter Horrocks, the head of the newly integrated news service

wrote that the move “will help us to be more efficient and so save money.”25

All types of convergence – but especially “complete convergence” – have led to an

increase in what has been called “roll convergence,” which is the merging of once-discrete roles

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in to a new job description that incorporates elements of the old roles.26 Many educators and

journalists have expressed concern that an increase in roll convergence will lead to a reduction in

journalistic quality and a world in which once-specialized journalists are jacks of all trade and

masters of none.27

It’s still unclear whether the integration illustrated by the nation’s largest papers will

spread down to smaller papers, where journalists on smaller staffs may already be more

accustomed to playing multiple rolls within the newsroom. The 2006 move by the Gannett

newspaper chain to reorganize its 90 papers across the country suggests that the trend might

continue.28 It’s also unclear whether the integration will stop at an interpersonal level — where

the leadership and management decisions are streamlined but journalists retain distinct rolls that

are either primarily online or primarily print – or whether integration will happen at the

intrapersonal level, creating a new breed of “backpack journalists”29 or “mojos.”30 In any case,

traditional and new media skills appear to be on a collision course in daily newspaper


Previous research has sought to find out what skills journalists should have in these

integrated newsrooms. A related but distinct line of research has attempted to define what skills

and concepts should be taught and are taught in college journalism programs. The research has

relied on ethnographic methods, case studies, surveys of newsroom leaders or surveys of rank-

and-file newsroom employees. Almost every finding in previous research indicates that

traditional skills and concepts are more common in online newsrooms today, even though

educators and newsroom leaders often say that new media skills should be or will be important.

Interestingly, new media skills seem to be becoming less important in favor of traditional

skills over the last decade. A survey that used data from 1999 found that for recent journalism

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graduates “seeking work in online publishing, knowledge of presentation software for the Web

surpasses the importance of all the other school-related predictors traditionally associated with

job-finding success.”31

In 2002, Huang, Davison, Shreve, Davis, Bettendorf and Nair (2006) asked both editors

and other news professionals at print and broadcast organizations what new skills news

professionals needed to learn most. Of the nine choices, the most common answer in both groups

was “good writing,” followed in both groups by “multimedia production.”32

Magee (2005) surveyed members of the Online News Association as well as readers of

several prominent journalism blogs. He divided his respondents in to “managers” and

“producers,” and also separated out responses from newspaper Web sites. He found that concepts

such as multitasking, attention to detail, communication, and ability to work under time pressure

were the most important skills. “Ability to learn new technologies” was the highest ranking new

media skill that producers said they used frequently or every day. The dominant new media skills

were related to text editing and production, with skills such as “headline writing for the Web”

and HTML strongly outranking audio/video production and programming skills. Also

noteworthy among Magee’s findings was that only 21.9 percent of newspaper producers said

they reported or wrote original stories for the Web at least frequently.33

Pierce and Miller (2006) surveyed newspaper managing editors and found a strong

preference for traditional skills such as writing efficiently over new media skills such as writing

for a Web site and working with TV on packages.34

Newsroom staffers who were listed as online editors in the Editor & Publisher database

and surveyed in 2006 and 2007 said that traditional skills were currently more important than

most digital journalism and Web-coding skills. Perhaps more interesting, though, was that these

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online journalists also said that traditional skills would continue to be more important in the


A 2008 survey of top newspaper editors continued to find that writing skills are perceived

as more important than multimedia or data analysis skills.36 So while previous research seems to

indicate that print editors as well as online editors and producers agree that traditional skills are

more important than new media skills, it’s unclear whether new media skills are unnecessary or

whether new media skills augment a strong grounding in traditional skills.


To help better understand how the skills and duties of online newspapers of all sizes

compare to the ideals expressed in earlier research, and to better understand how and where new

media skills are entering newspaper newsrooms, the following research questions were


RQ1: What skills, concepts and duties are used most commonly by editorial staff

working online at daily newspapers?

RQ2: Are the skills of young and old journalists in online newsrooms different?

RQ3: Do journalists who have new media skills also have a high level of traditional

skills or are the two sets mutually exclusive?


The data in this survey come from a questionnaire sent to people working in online

positions at daily newspapers in North Carolina. A link to the online questionnaire was e-mailed

to 108 people at 29 of the state’s 48 daily newspapers, including all of the state’s large papers

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(those with circulations greater than 35,000) and all but two of the state’s medium papers

(circulations between 15,000 and 35,000) that said they had at least one person working online.

The survey sample was identified through a two-step process. For the first step, the online

mastheads of the Web sites for each of the 29 newspapers that the N.C. Press Association

identifies as daily newspaper were visited. From those mastheads, the names of staff members

with job titles that explicitly indicated they worked in online media were selected.

To identify which job titles were explicitly online, the job descriptions that the Online

News Association uses to categorize its members was consulted. A list of 237 job titles and

detailed descriptions that The Croner Company used in its 2007 Online Content and Service

Compensation Survey was also consulted.

Several daily newspapers had no online masthead, or had no explicitly online newsroom

employees on their masthead. For these papers, the highest-ranking editorial employee at each

paper was contacted by phone and e-mail and asked for the names and e-mail addresses of

people that worked online at his or her newspaper.

The survey was conduct via a Web-based questionnaire. The survey sample received an

initial invitation via postal mail with a two-dollar bill enclosed. Three days later they received an

e-mail with a link to the online questionnaire. Follow-up emails were sent to non-respondents at

7 and 22 days after the initial contact. At 31 days after the initial contact, all remaining non-

respondents were contacted via telephone and invited to complete the questionnaire.

This method of sample selection is less objective than those methods used by either

Magee37 or Fahmy38 in their surveys of online journalists, but it is also far more representative of

the industry. Magee identified online journalists for his survey by using the database on members

in the Online News Association. However, there are only 21 ONA members in North Carolina,

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and only four of those work at professional daily newspapers in the state. The 2007 Editor &

Publisher yearbook only includes listings of employees in “Editorial Management.” It lists17

such online employees at North Carolina dailies.

The questionnaire for this research consisted of 42 questions. In addition to other

questions, it asked respondents to rate their competency in 18 skills along a five-point Likert

scale of expert, proficient, familiar, learning and unfamiliar. The list of these skills was based

largely on the list given to respondents in the Magee study. Respondents to the North Carolina

questionnaire were also asked what percentage of their time during the last three months they

spent on each of 24 duties, with each respondent required to account for 100 percent of his or her

time. Finally, respondents were asked to rank 10 concepts from most important to least important

to their own work situation.

Responses were collected between March 23 and April 24, 2008.


We received 82 responses for an overall response rate of 75.9 percent. This response rate

is higher than similar online surveys.39 Most respondents (54 percent) had 10 or fewer years

experience in journalism. The average tenure in the field was 13.9 years and the mode was 6

years, with 11 percent of respondents reporting that they had spent that much time in a


There was at least one response from 18 of the 29 papers contacted in the survey, but the

responses were dominated by The Asheville Citizen-Times, a Gannett paper that was part of the

overhaul of its newsroom organization in 2006. Perhaps because of this chain-wide alteration of

job titles to reflect a direct responsibility for the Web site, the questionnaire was sent to more

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people at The Citizen-Times than any other paper in the state. It accounted for 23 percent of our

sample. The News & Observer in Raleigh had the second largest online staff (19 people),

accounting for only 17 percent of our sample. There were also more respondents from the

Citizen-Times than any other. It accounted for 26 percent of the responses. The response rate for

Citizen-Times employees was 72 percent.

The papers were sorted by the size of their online staff – the measurement of size that

Magee used in his 2005 study. Only one paper represented by at least one respondent was in the

large (more than 20 online staffers) category. That paper was The Asheville Citizen-Times.

Three were in the Magee “mid-sized” category (online staffs of 6 to 20) and 13 were in the

Magee small category. The final “paper” that was represented in this survey was a central Web

site that serves several newspapers that Freedom Communications, Inc. owns in the eastern part

of the state.

But The Asheville Citizen-Times is not the largest circulation paper in North Carolina,

nor was it the most widely circulated of the papers represented in this survey. The N.C. Press

Association ranks its members as small, medium, or large based on the daily print circulation, as

discussed earlier in the Methodology section of this paper. Seven of the papers in the survey

(38.8 percent) were in the NCPA large category, five (27.7 percent) were in the medium

category, and four (22.2 percent) were in the small category. This means that all of the NCPA

large papers were represented in our survey, while only 62.5 percent of the state’s medium

papers and 33.3 percent of the small papers had at least one respondent in this survey.

Overall Skill Levels

Traditional skills – skills that journalists needed to do their jobs before the advent of the

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Internet – and skills related to the editing and placement of text on the Web had the highest

average skill ratings on a scale of 1to 5, with 1 being “expert” and 5 being “unfamiliar.” [See

Table 1] The three skills that had an average score below 2 were “grammar and style,” “news

judgment,” and “writing summary content for the Web.” The three lowest rated skills – all with

an average score greater than 3.5 were Flash, computer programming, and SQL.

These findings are consistent with previous surveys of online journalists, even thought

the sample methodologies differ. Fahmy (2008) found that text-based skills such as spelling and

writing were ranked as more important than digital journalism or Web-coding skills such as

multimedia delivery and HTML. When asked about the importance of these skills in the next five

years, however, the online editors said that audio and video storytelling skills would be relatively

more important while text skills such as spelling and AP style would be relatively less

important.40 Similarly, Magee (2005) found that online journalists ranked computer

programming and database skills at the bottom of skills they said they used at least frequently,

while news judgment and working in a content management system were more often used.

Daily Duties of Online Journalists

Respondents were asked what percentage of their time during the previous three months

they spent on each of 24 duties – in other words, how they put their skills to use. One possibility

was that there would be an indication of untapped skills in online newsrooms. But instead what

we see is that life in the integrated newsroom at Gannett’s Asheville Citizen-Times looks

different than life for online journalists at other publications.

As a group, online journalists at North Carolina’s daily newspapers spent more time (7.6

percent of it) writing original stories for the Web than doing anything else. But that’s because a

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few journalists spent most of their time on that one duty, while most online journalists spent their

time on an average of nine different duties. Five respondents – all from the Citizen-Times – said

they spent more than half their time writing stories for the Web. Those five respondents

performed an average of only 6.75 duties. Only one other respondent said he or she spent more

than 50 percent of his or her time on any one duty.

The duty most likely to have been done at least once during the last three months was

training or teaching colleagues, with 62 percent of respondents saying they had performed that

task. In-house training is clearly one way that new media skills are proliferating through the

industry. These findings are consistent with a 2006 survey of journalists done by the James S.

and John L. Knight Foundation that found 90 percent of journalists want more training and the

area that the area of training in which they most often said they needed training was new media.

The same survey found that in-house training – as opposed to training done in journalism schools

or by professional organizations, for example – was the most widely used method of training in

American newsrooms.41

There were only two other duties performed by at least half of the respondents, and they

were traditional duties — writing headlines or blurbs (55 percent) and photo or image editing (53

percent). The new media duties were scattered throughout the ranked list, with video production

ranking as the most common new media task (41 percent of respondents have spent at least some

time on it). E-mail newsletter production, information graphic design, and user interface design

were the least common duties, all being performed by less than a quarter of respondents.

Interestingly, the only other duty done by less than a quarter of respondents was photo shooting,

which contrasts to the high frequency of photo or image editing. [See Table 2.]


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Respondents were asked to rate 10 concepts in order from most important to least

important for their own work. The mean rankings for each of the 10 tasks was between 4.23 and

7.31 – a fairly tight range, which demonstrates the broad differences in the concepts that are

important to individual online journalists in their unique jobs. The concept of multitasking had

the highest mean ranking, which may indicate the presence of “roll convergence” in which one

person is being asked to spread his or her time across several duties. The three concepts with the

next highest mean rankings were all traditional concepts – ability to work under time pressure,

attention to detail, and news judgment. The concept with the fifth highest ranking was

teamwork/collaboration, which may also indicate the presence of integration at the intrapersonal


These five concepts were also the only ones to be ranked as one of the top five most

important concepts by more than half of the respondents, although their order by this measure

was slightly different. [See Table 3] By all measurements, online community management was

seen as the least important concept (even though “managing user-generated content” was one of

the most common new media duties). The concept of online community management had the

lowest mean ranking, had the fewest respondents rank it among their top five concepts, and was

also most likely to be rated last among the list of 10 concepts.

Young People

One of the ways that younger online journalists are changing the newsrooms in which

they work is by bringing new skills to their job. Respondents were divided in to three age

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categories: 23 years to 32 years, 33 years to 42 years, 43 years to 52 years, and older than 52.

Several of the new media skills – such as computer programming, writing for search engine

optimization, and Flash — were rarely found among older respondents but frequently found

among younger respondents.

No respondents in the oldest age category said they had either expert or proficient skill

levels in each of the following skills: information graphics design, Flash, SQL, and search engine


In the two oldest age categories, only one person said he or she was at least proficient in

SQL and one other person said he or she was at least proficient in computer programming (such

as PHP, JavaScript, Python, Ruby on Rails, ASP, Ajax or Django).

Interestingly, though, it was the 33- to 42-year-old age group – not the youngest group —

where an expert or proficient rating in these new media skills was most prevalent. SQL, Flash,

and computer programming skills -– as well as HTML, Photoshop, and information graphics

design — were most likely to be found among respondents in the second youngest age category.

The youngest age category had the highest percentage of respondents say they were either expert

or proficient in audio reporting and/or editing, search engine optimization, and Dreamweaver.

[See Table 4]

These results, however, should be viewed with a certain bit of skepticism about the nature

of self-reporting one’s own ability since respondents under 33 were also the group most likely to

rate themselves as being expert or proficient at traditional news skills such as news judgment and


Younger online journalists appear to be adding these new media skills to a set of more

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traditional skills. They are more likely to rate themselves as expert or proficient in a broader

range of skills than their older colleagues. Respondents between 23 and 32 rated themselves as

expert or proficient in an average of 12.13 skills, while respondents in the oldest age group gave

themselves high marks in an average of only 5.38 skills. [See Chart 1]

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This research supports earlier findings that traditional skills dominate online newsrooms

at daily newspapers, but it also shows for the first time an indication that new media skills are

being added on top of traditional skills and that they are being brought to newsrooms through the

hiring of young people rather than re-training of an existing workforce. This research is also

important to journalism programs that are continuing to examine changes in their curricula. At

the undergraduate level, curriculum change is often a zero-sum game. As new media skills are

added, those additions may come at the expense of traditional skills.

Amid an ongoing debate over whether newspapers should be hiring computer

programmers and teaching them journalism or whether they should hire journalists and teach

them programming42, it is interesting to note that not all of the new media skills are dominant

among the most recent graduates of journalism programs. It appears as if these skills are being

acquired during the first or second decade a journalist spends in the business.

Role convergence – as opposed to roll replacement — is occurring for younger

journalists, and it will be important to watch how additional new media skills are put in to

practice in the future as well as how these skills diffuse through the ranks of older journalists.

Among today’s newspaper leaders, 48 percent are conflicted about the effect of the Web on their

newsgathering operation and another 6 percent are worried.43 If younger journalists – presumably

not yet in leadership positions – are more optimistic that their additional skills can improve

journalism, we may see bigger and faster changes in the industry.

But there is also a possibility that the quality of journalism will suffer as journalists who

are asked to have a broader range of skills and use those skills to perform a broader range of

duties. There are some indications, such as the quote from the BBC memo mentioned earlier, that

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some of this roll convergence is being driven by cost-saving measures, rather than by a pure

pursuit of more relevant and more memorable evidence-based journalism. Some of the

traditional skills borne by online journalists may simply be replacing traditional skills that are

being lost from the print staff. According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, 42 percent

of papers in the last three years have reduced the number of copyeditors on the staff. The

photography staff has been cut at 31 percent of U.S. papers.

In any case, this research is not aimed at predicting what the future of journalism will be

or proposing what the future of journalism should be. But it uses the most comprehensive

sampling methodology to date in an effort to determine who is doing what in online journalism

today. And while the high response rate to this survey is an indication of its success, it is

important to note for future research just how difficult it can be to even see where an online news

staff begins and ends. Just as there is a broader debate about who is a journalist in a world where

anyone can be a publisher, one could also debate about who is an online journalist. This debate

will probably become more profound if newspapers continue to integrate their staffs similar to

the integration that occurred at The Asheville Citizen-Times and other Gannett papers.

In this survey, it’s possible that the sample missed journalists who were part of the

population and also included people who were not part of the population. During the process of

compiling the sample, my research assistants and I discovered that several daily North Carolina

newspapers that have Web sites have no dedicated online staff. Some editors at such newspapers

said they contracted out the editorial production of the Web site. Others said that “everyone”

worked on the site.

While the goal was to obtain the names of every online employee at North Carolina’s

daily newspapers, some were missed. Significantly, the questionnaire was not sent to any online

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staffers at the Durham Herald-Sun, the most widely circulated paper in the N.C. Press

Association’s “medium” category. After the completion of the survey, it was discovered that two

online staffers who work at the Hendersonville Times-News and one online staffer at the

Statesville Record & Landmark were not included in the survey. Another group that this survey

sample missed was journalists who retained traditional titles – such as designer or photographer

— but who are now doing at least some percentage of their work for the paper’s Web site.

On the other hand, this survey’s method of sample selection may have been too broad in

its definition of online journalist. Several members of the sample reported back that they worked

in a non-editorial role — perhaps online advertising or purely technical systems management.

But one of the most fascinating experiences of putting together the sample to this survey was that

several respondents from the Asheville Citizen-Times –- people with words like “blogger” in

their titles on the paper’s online masthead –- contacted the author to say they really didn’t work

online. In their e-mail signatures and in phone conversations, the job titles that they chose for

themselves never included the online elements we found next to their names on the paper’s

masthead. Among this group who declined to participate in the survey were people who had

created online-only content for the Citizen-Times during the month the survey was conducted.

We need a better understanding of the self-perception of journalists in integrated newsrooms. It’s

clear that despite corporate press release some journalists still decline to self-identify as someone

who works primarily online.

In addition to the diversity of skills and duties found among online journalists, their

actual job titles are also incredibly diverse. There were 55 different job titles that appeared on

papers’ online mastheads next to the names of people included in the sample. But only four job

titles appeared at more than one organization: content producer, general manager, online editor

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and online producer. A goal of future research should be to help the industry standardize job

titles as well as standardize the skills, duties and concepts that are important to each of those

jobs. The creation of something as basic as a common definition of newsroom job titles would

make life easier for hiring managers and job seekers alike.

Because this research focuses on the current state of affairs in newsrooms, it may indicate

a gap between the skills that hiring managers are seeking and the skills that applicants are

bringing to the field upon entry out of college. For example, the John S. & James L. Knight

Foundation believes that programmers are in such high demand in newsrooms today that they

gave Northwestern University $638,000 to fund nine full-ride scholarships for computer

programmers who want to get a master’s degree in journalism at Medill.44 Further research

should attempt to quantify the demand for these specific technical skills through a content

analysis of job postings in journalistic fields. Another important way of understanding how new

media skills are valued in the industry should be an examination of the skills used by journalists

working on projects that are recognized by industry awards, such as the Online News

Association’s annual awards. A comparatively high correlation between new media skills and

high caliber online journalism might indicate certain skills that yield certain results. It would also

be worth looking for possible correlations between news site popularity and the skills, duties, and

concepts of journalists at more popular – and more financially successful — sites. Indeed,

journalism is changing. But for democracy and free markets to benefit, that change must be

driven by a continued focus on how new ideas and new skills make journalism that is higher

quality, more widely used and – ultimately – more sustainable.

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Table 1: Means for Self-Reporting Skill Levels of Online Journalists

Grammar and style 1.82

News judgment 1.91
Writing summary content 1.98
Working in a CMS 2.08
Web usability 2.15
Blogging tools 2.54
Photoshop 2.62
Audio reporting/editing 2.64
HTML 2.64
Web layout/user interface design 2.82
Video reporting/editing 2.86
Search engine optimization 2.88
Soundslides 3.23
Information graphics design 3.30
Dreamweaver 3.37
Flash 3.73
Computer programming 3.97
SQL 4.20
Means are based on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “expert” and 5 being “unfamiliar.”

Convergence or Replacement? Thornburg

Table 2: Percentage of journalists saying they spend at least some time

on a task and rankings of the average time spent on the task by all

Avg. Time
Task Frequency % Spent %
Training or teaching others 57 2.85
Writing headlines and blurbs 55 2.93
Photo or image editing 53 1.81
Editing text for content 48 1.29
Project management 48 1.89
Editing for grammar or style 45 1.44
Video production 41 1.88
Writing original stories 39 7.83
Managing user-generated content 39 1.25
Analyzing site-use metrics 39 1.13
Multimedia authoring 37 1.40
Other duties 36 3.41
Staff organization/administration 33 1.77
Audio production 33 1.21
Working with third-party content
providers 33 0.96
Blogging 31 1.67
Working on business issues 29 2.09
Database design/administration 28 0.87
Story combining/shortening 28 0.65
Writing or editing scripts 25 1.39
Photo shooting 24 0.81
Email newsletter production 24 0.89
Information graphic design 21 0.64
User interface design 20 0.73
Means are based on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “expert” and 5 being “unfamiliar.”

Convergence or Replacement? Thornburg

Table 3: Concepts by mean ranking and by rate of

placement among the top five.
Mean Top 5
Concept ranking percentage
Multitasking 4.23 62.90%
Ability to work under time
pressure 4.25 60.94%
Attention to detail 4.37 73.02%
News judgment 4.48 67.74%
Teamwork/collaboration 4.95 57.81%
Ability to learn new
technology 5.73 45.00%
Web usability 5.76 48.39%
Interpersonal communication 6.06 45.31%
Awareness of new
technology 6.59 34.92%
Online community
management 7.31 22.41%
Means are based on the rankings of each concept from 1 to 10, with 1
being most important and 10 being least important.

Table 4: Frequency of New Media Skills, by Age

23-32 33-42 43-52 53+
SEO 33% 32% 0% 0%
SQL 0% 26% 0% 0%
Flash 20% 21% 8% 0%
Info Graphics 33% 44% 25% 0%
Audio 73% 63% 33% 13%
Programming 7% 21% 0% 13%
Dreamweaver 40% 36% 25% 13%
Photoshop 66% 79% 50% 13%
HTML 60% 63% 33% 38%
Percentages are the frequency that respondents in each age category
rated themselves as either “expert” or “proficient” — the top two
points on a five-point scale.

Convergence or Replacement? Thornburg

Chart 1: Average number of skills in which respondents said they were either
expert or proficient, by age

Convergence or Replacement? Thornburg


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