With the economic model underpinning much of the media system in flux, media workers have had a tumultuous experience. Our findings suggest that while managers feel slightly more secure in their job, and are slightly more likely to say they will still be working in journalism in five years, layoffs, furloughs, and paycuts have impacted managers and staff members at similar rates.
Moreover, a majority of managers and staff members have added new responsibilities at work. Relatedly, the most commonly cited obstacle affecting their ability to do their job is organization resources and staffing. Such results hint at a workforce that may feel overworked and under supported.
With pay cuts and layoffs an unfortunate reality for media organizations in recent years, we measured how many managers or staff members have experienced changes in compensation in the past five years.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, managers were more likely to experience a pay raise or a promotion (possibly a promotion to management). Still, managers were slightly more likely to have a benefits reduction (31% vs 25%).
In terms of other negative experiences, managers and staff members reported cutbacks at similar rates: roughly one-seventh experienced pay cuts, one-eighth experienced a layoff, and one-tenth experienced a furlough.
Given these relatively common cutbacks, how secure do managers and staff members feel about their jobs? We find that 74 percent of managers and 67 percent of staff members said they felt either “very secure” or “fairly secure.” At the other end of the spectrum, 29 percent of staff members said they feel not too secure or not secure at all (compared to 22 percent of managers).
That managers feel more secure is not particularly surprising, as they may feel they have more years of experience or responsibilities that are seen as more difficult to replace. Still, it is noteworthy that more than 1 out of 4 staff members fear for their job security. This finding helps contextualize the amount of self-promotion and freelancing performed by staff members who may seek an edge in retaining their job or finding a new one.
Given these experiences with cutbacks and some trepidation concerning job security, a common concern is that workers may leave journalism to join a related — but more stable — field like public relations. To explore this topic, we asked those working in journalism whether they plan to continue to be working there in five years.
Here, we find that managers and staff members have slightly different views. For both, the most common answer is they will still be in journalism, with 68 percent of managers and 64 percent of staff members saying this. But slightly more staff members say they want to remain in journalism but doubt they will be able to (18% vs 14%). And slightly more managers say they will switch to another field (12% vs 10%).
These differences may be partially attributable to staff members having less confidence in their ability to retain a job in journalism while managers are more likely to believe their skills are easily transferable to other fields.
The changes undergone at media organizations did not just impact pay or job security—it also impacted the responsibilities employees hold. Indeed, in the past five years, we find that 68% managers and 62% of staff members say they have had duties added to existing responsibilities.
Managers were more likely to engage in an interesting innovation project (48% vs 31%), start in a new job that didn’t exist a few years ago (24% vs 20%), or launch a startup or new venture at their company (19% vs 7%). Roughly 1 out of 10 managers or staff members launched a startup or venture on their own.
On one hand, these changes hint at innovation within media companies. At the same time, they suggest that staff members are less involved in these new projects. Coupled with our previous findings that managers are more likely to be comfortable with technology and desire more training in metrics and business practices while staff members focus more on content creation, it reinforces the notion that managers are focusing on the more innovative aspects at media companies. It is unclear whether this arrangement is the most productive approach, as staff members will eventually need to “buy in” to the new developments as much as management has.
With the responsibilities, job security, and content produced in journalism fluctuating over the years, it is understandable that workers may be frustrated with certain aspects of their jobs. Consequently, we asked workers what they see as the biggest obstacles affecting their ability to do their job, while allowing them to select up to three answers.
For both managers and staff members, three responses stand above the rest. The most common answer is organizational resources and staffing (59% of managers and 47% of staff members), followed by the challenge of keeping up with new technology (40% vs 36%) and unclear strategy at the company (36% vs 34%).
A striking finding is that nearly 6 out of 10 managers say organizational resources and staffing is a major obstacle. With figures from the American Society of News Editors suggesting that the number of newsroom staff has declined by 21 percent between 2010 and 2015, managers are likely working with less staff than they were a few years ago. Given our other findings, managers may be frustrated with staff members being laid off, their company not adapting faster to technology, and the strategy to adapt to this new environment being unclear.
Managers also expressed more concerns over the challenge of keeping up with new tools and technology (40% vs 36%), which was the second most common answer. At first glance this seems to suggest that managers struggle more to keep up with technology. However, when it is contextualized with our previous results showing that managers are more comfortable with digital tools and use them more regularly, this challenge likely reflects that managers feel more pressure to stay up-to-date. It may also suggest that managers are concerned with how to keep their staff up to date on technology.
It is noteworthy that one-third of managers and staff members also identified changing or unclear goals or strategy at their company as a major obstacle. This is particularly problematic because clear goals helps establish a structure and culture that fosters innovation. Such strategies are especially important as news organizations adapt to smaller newsrooms and new technologies.
Ultimately, these findings suggest that while managers and staff members have experienced cutbacks at similar rates, staff members feel less secure in their jobs and are slightly less likely to believe that they will still be working in journalism in five years.
Possibly suggesting an overworked workforce, resources and staffing is the most commonly cited challenge affecting journalists’ ability to do their jobs. Indeed, most media workers have added responsibilities in the past five years, with managers being more likely to work on innovative projects.