One question virtually everyone in media hears at one point or another is whether the world of journalism, with all the possibilities and disruption caused by technology, is getting better or worse. The survey asked a series of questions that probed this.
The answers varied significantly depending on where people worked in the media, their age, and whether they were talking about their own work or that of others.
The general picture was one of concern, even alarm, over the quality of the information that is flooding to the public as well as the resources to produce journalism. But that is leavened by a sense of possibility as consumers have more ability to access information.
There is a dichotomy in the responses. Most people think their own work is improving, while the world of media and journalism in general is getting worse.
Similarly, there is a sense of wonder about the access citizens have to information and a sense of skepticism about public appetite for quality. In addition to skepticism about the public, there is skepticism about media ownership. And the youngest graduates are more likely to feel that legacy organizations are failing to adapt.
Interestingly too, there is more agreement over what the exciting possibilities are than what the biggest challenges are.
The survey first asked just those working in journalism whether they thought the quality of the work they personally were able to produce in the past five years had improved or not. Most (61%) think that their own work has gotten better (29% greatly and 32% somewhat). Another 19% say it has remained about the same. Just 18% think the work they are able to produce has degraded.
These responses vary markedly by generation, as strikingly as any findings in the study. Among those under age 35, fully 78% believe the work they are able to produce has improved — and 45% believe it has improved “greatly.” By contrast, 59% of those ages 35-54 feel the work they can produce is better than five years ago (and 24% believe it has improved greatly). Among those over age 55, that number is 46% (and 17% say it has improved greatly).
When people engaged in journalism are asked about media in general, rather than their own work, their answers change significantly. When asked to generalize, less than a quarter (22%) think the journalism produced in general is improving, just a third as many who feel that way about their own work. And 6 out of 10 who describe themselves as engaged in journalism think journalism in general is getting worse.
These numbers differ by age, as well, but the overall pattern holds. The youngest in journalism are more optimistic, but only a minority feel media are improving.
Of this group, those under age 35, a little over a third feel media are getting better (34%). By contrast, 1 in 5 thinks it is about the same (21%), and just less than half (46%) think it is getting worse.
For the oldest cohort who describe their work as journalistic, however, just 14% see media getting better, and 72% think it’s getting worse.
That is the view of those who describe their work as journalistic. What about the larger universe, including those who studied communication and media but whose work is outside journalism?
The views of those who are not doing journalism professionally are more pessimistic. Just 14% of those of media graduates who are not journalists think “the journalism produced today has improved in quality” from 5 years ago (compared with 22% of those engaged in journalism), while 69% think it is declining in quality–and 26% see it declining “greatly.”
People’s attitudes about whether journalism is on the right track or the wrong track also vary somewhat by age, but here too the differences are not dramatic. Those under 35 are not as pessimistic about journalism’s direction as older graduates, but they are still wary. A slim majority (55%) of those under 35 think journalism is getting worse, but that is far less than the 70% of those 35-54 and 74% of those 55 or older who think so. Still, just a quarter of this group, who would qualify as millennial journalism and communication graduates, think journalism generally is getting better.
While age influenced how optimistic people were about journalism, the industry these graduates worked in did not make much difference. Whether they were employed in news, commercial brands, politics or technology, there weren’t appreciable differences in attitude.
In addition to asking about the general direction of journalism, the survey probed more specifically what opportunities and challenges surround the disruption.
What did these journalism and communication graduates consider the biggest challenge to journalism?
The largest group didn’t cite money or ownership. They cited the nature of the information on the web. Fully 57% said they thought the biggest challenge facing journalism today was “the flood of opinion and false information on the Internet.” Indeed, this was the only challenge that was cited by a majority.
The second challenge, cited by significantly fewer people (44%), was that the economic model for journalism is broken.
Roughly a third of respondents cite media owners being too focused on profits (35%) and the public not caring enough about quality (35%). A slightly lower number think media owners don’t believe quality will sell (29%).
But only a little more than a quarter of respondents think legacy media’s inability to adapt faster is among the biggest challenges facing media.
Interestingly, perceptions about the challenges brought on by technology did not vary much by age.
Those over age 55, for instance, were slightly more inclined to think the economic model for news was broken than were those under 35 (50% versus 44%). Those under 35 were notably more inclined to think that traditional media companies needed to adapt faster than were those a generation older (35% versus 23%).
But for many factors there was no statistically significant difference by age. And, interestingly, the youngest respondents were as likely as the oldest to think that among the biggest challenges was the flood of opinion and false information online (59% among those under age 35 and 57% of those over age 55).
The digital natives who study communication and journalism, in other words, are as skeptical of what they find on the web as the previous generation who did not grow up with it.
Does the assessment of journalism’s problems vary by the profession in which these communication and journalism graduates now work? To a notable degree it does. Those in commercial brands, education, and politics, for instance, are more inclined to think the Internet is a flood of opinion and false information (60% for each) than are those who work in news (52%).
On the other hand, people working in journalism are more inclined to think media companies are failing to adapt (34%) than are graduates in all other fields (25%). Those in journalism are also somewhat more likely to think the economic model for news is broken (49%) than those in other fields (43%).
People in journalism, by contrast, are somewhat less likely to blame the public for not liking quality news (31%) than are their fellow graduates who now work in other fields (37%).
If those are the challenges, what did those who studied media in college and graduate school think were the biggest benefits of the technological revolution?
Here, majorities of respondents cited several items. Fully two-thirds of respondents (67%) cite the fact that “people can access news from anywhere,” followed by 56% who said distribution is easier and faster or note the existence of new storytelling tools. Far fewer, just over a third, cited the ability of people to find what they want, and only 1 in 5 (19%) cited the idea that news is a two-way conversation. Only 17% cited the idea that one needn’t be part of an institution to create journalism.
Interestingly, while one’s age and profession made a big difference in how people assessed the challenges facing media and news, they did not correlate to differences as much in what people saw as the benefits of technology.
Millennial graduates (those under age 35) were more likely to cite as a benefit that news is a two-way conversation (25%) than either those age 35-54 (20%) or those over age 55 (16%). Though numbers were small in general, the youngest were more likely to think that if you create something great, people will find it (14% for those under 35 versus 9% for those age 35-54 and 6% for those 55-plus). But for most concepts, there were no differences by age.
If age made little difference in the perceptions of technology’s benefits to the media world, people’s employers correlated with even fewer distinctions. Profession, in other words, did not seem to alter perception about technology’s promise.
Beyond more general perceptions about journalism, the study also probed how technological and economic change might be influencing the work that these graduates personally do — whatever their industry. It probed what people considered the biggest obstacles to their doing their jobs.
Three items stood out above all. At the top of the list was money, or more specifically organizational resources and staffing. Half of all respondents (49%), regardless of where they worked, say lack of resources is a challenge. This is followed by the difficulty of keeping up with changing technology (39%) and changing or unclear goals at their companies (34%). Lagging behind is the fact that people feel they are always on the clock (24%), the need to constantly update, particularly with social media (15%), and lack of in-house training (11%).
These results do vary by age — but not all in one direction and not on all matters. The youngest see always being on the clock due to connectivity as a bigger problem than older graduates. Nearly a third (32%) cited it as one of the biggest obstacles they face, compared with 27% of those age 35-54 and just 17% of those 55 or older.
These younger graduates also see changing or unclear goals at their company as a much bigger problem (44%) than older graduates (36% for those age 35-54 and 27% for those 55 and older), perhaps because older employees are more involved in making the strategy or perhaps because they have lived through more course-changing in their careers already.
Older graduates find keeping up with technology far more daunting than younger ones. But on a core of other issues, including the demands of social media and the pressure on ethics, there was little in the way of generational divide.
If age correlated to different perceptions about obstacles at work, did the industry where people work? To a degree. Those who consider themselves entrepreneurs are more bothered by the pressures of constantly updating on social media. People in commercial brands are more bothered by having to keep up with new tools and technology. Entrepreneurs are far less bothered by lack of resources than those in virtually all other fields.
One difference here worth noting: Those in journalism are more worried about the impact of business pressure on ethics than those in other fields — 27% cited this as a major obstacle versus an average of 15% for other professions.