Extra! Sociologist calls new media reporters ‘flexible laborers’ caught in a ‘news cyclone’

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It’s a pity sociologists seem to have stopped studying newsrooms, New York University professor Eric Klinenberg laments to his academic colleague in a paper titled, “Convergence: News Production in a Digital Age.” I stumbled across a 17-page PDF of this paper. It was published in the January 2005 Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences. But now I am unable to reforge the link.

Oh, well, there’s another pity. Unless someone can help out with a pointer to the full version, you’ll have to rely on my brutal summary of this very nuanced work. But as I read it, Klinenberg makes two principal findings:

  • that future newsroom workers will have to be skilled across media and expected to produce “content” in multiple forms under constant deadline; and
  • and that “the mythical walls separating the editorial and advertising are mostly down.”

Klinenberg arrives at the first conclusion through an in-depth study of a mythical paper called the Metro News which he describes as a “second tier media corporation” considered a model for “integrating different forms of media.” He notes how the installation of a television studio in the middle of a print newsroom in 1999 symbolized the company’s cross-media intent. He writes that:

“In the new media newsroom, journalists have to be flexible laborers reskilled to meet the demands from several media at once.”

Newsrooms have always been subject to the pressure of a news cycle. But 24-hour television and the Internet have created what he calls a  news cyclone. News-junkies demand heaping mounds of fresh content served hot and steaming for print, audio, video and/or mobile consumption. One Metro News writer tells Klinenberg:

“There’s a writing process that’s just constant, constant, constant . . .  in everything we’re doing we’re dealing with the clock. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. And that clock just goes on.”

I’ve seen the Metro News print product. Have you? It’s visually gorgeous. Packed with ads. A few short stories for light reading on the bus. None of that public watchdog stuff. If the reader didn’t happen to know that the U.S. foreign trade deficit had hit a new record for the umpteenth month, the Metro version would get across the gist.

Klinenberg’s sociological take on the “convergence newsroom” seems right in line with my Monday blog item on the Medill graduate student’s study of newsroom skills at 538 online newsrooms. Cross-training a must; content processing valued over content discovery (i.e. reporting and writing); copy-editing, page design and photo manipulation, a must.

Klinenberg’s second finding revolves around the “dramatic . . .  penetration of market principles and marketing projects into the editorial newsroom.” Among other points he notes that in 2003 managers at the Dallas Morning News “began handing out $100 bills to reporters who memorized the company’s five business goals and could recite them upon demand.”

He alludes to corporate concentration of ownership. In 1945, “80 percent of newspapers were privately-owned,” he writes. “By 2000, 80 percent were owned and operated by publicly-traded chains and media corporations” (who now say, as I blogged yesterday, that they’re fighting Big Internet and need to get bigger still to justify their news-gathering costs).

In short, it’s not your daddy’s newsroom. Klinenberg quotes one writer as saying:

“The whole idea of giving reporters time and space to explore just doesn’t seem like an effiicient way to do business.”