Who are the news nerds?
by Erika Owens
As hundreds of members of the journalism-tech community descend on Jacksonville for the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting conference, we wanted to share results from a recent community survey.
Affectionately referred to as “news nerds,” 514 folks who work at the intersection of journalism and technology responded to a survey last year to help us get a better sense of who we are, what the heck we call this work, and what we do. Thank you to everyone who took part in the survey–the data gathered has given us a baseline of understanding about this community, so we can hold ourselves accountable to goals on inclusion, representation, and what it takes to do amazing journalism together.
Prepping the survey
Before we dive into the data, I want to share a little bit about how we got here. Nearly two years ago, Brian Hamman of the New York Times and Scott Klein of ProPublica reached out with an idea to organize a SRCCON session as a way to do a census of this community. Their email was well timed, as we at OpenNews had also been thinking about a community survey. We began working together first, as any good reporters, by gathering information from folks in the field. During sessions at SRCCON and ONA in 2015 as well as many individual conversations, Brian, Scott, and I gathered feedback from the community–what questions would you like to ask? What information would you like to be able to act upon?
In 2016, we brought in another set of collaborators–Madeleine Taylor and Anne Whatley of Network Impact. They were already constructing a survey as part of research the Knight Foundation had commissioned on OpenNews. We worked with Anne and Madeleine to add news nerd survey questions to the survey Network Impact created and to help get the survey out to hundreds of members of the community. They also gathered, cleaned, coded, and analyzed the data.
The part you all have been waiting for: the data. You can dig into the spreadsheet of data yourself directly. We also prepped a bunch of charts based on the data There are some themes we’d like to highlight:
Who news nerds are
- We received 514 responses in total
- 51% of respondents are 26-35 years old
- ⅔ of respondents identify as male
- 76% of respondents identify as white; 9% of respondents identify as East Asian or Asian American; 6% identify as Latino or Hispanic American; 4% identify as South Asian or Indian American; and 3% identify as Black, Afro-Caribbean, or African American
- Respondents are becoming more established in this field: 44% of respondents have been working in journalism tech for 5 years or more
- Plus, we’re still bringing in new folks: 14% of respondents are in their first job in journalism tech
How news nerds work
- Job titles were one of the questions members of the community wanted more data on. They remain a challenge, but just over 50% of respondents have a title of news app or interactive developer, or developer
- The majority of respondents (71%) work at news organizations, with about 10% of the remaining respondents freelancing, working at a media-related tech startup, or teaching
- 76% of respondents work on journalism, with 13% working on products and 10% working on platforms
- A plurality of respondents work on a team that is 2-5 people (38%), with 10% identifying as solo coders and the rest working on larger teams
- The majority of respondents’ teams report to an editor–either one who just supervises new media (28%) or one who supervises new and traditional media (35%)
What news nerds need
- What’s the #1 biggest challenge facing respondents? 59% of respondents answered “we have more projects than our team can handle and are not growing fast enough to keep up with demand.” Just under half also cite “not having editors who are qualified to supervise technologists” and “lack of resources/budget”
- What do respondents think the journalism tech community needs now? 25% of respondents answered diversity/inclusivity, 15% answered sustainable funding/grants, and 20% referenced opportunities to connect through well designed trainings or chances for networking and collaboration. Only 3% of respondents saw “better tools” at what this community most needs, in spite of it often being cited as the main solution to what ails journalism tech.
- What do respondents think smaller newsrooms need? The responses that got the most votes were a better suite of tools and making it easier to find tools, but nearly every other response related to people: cooperation, collaboration, translation between different roles, access to events and trainings.
We learned a lot from designing and conducting a survey like this for the first time. There’s some additional data we’re still considering how to share in a responsible way. One of the questions folks were curious about is “who does this community turn to for advice?” You answered with dozens of dozens of names and we’re working on how to share that information in a usable way. We expect this survey will continue to evolve as we learn more about what you want to know, and how to structure those questions and share this data.
When we initially began planning out this project, we also hoped it could be a census. We know that there are many more than 514 people in this community and would love to have a sense of our overall numbers. With this survey, we didn’t have the details necessary to produce a census of the community, but share it as a baseline of understanding about this community.
With a better understanding of who we are and what we need, we hope that news organizations and journalism organizations like OpenNews will be better able to support this community. And yes, it is a community: 89% of respondents said they feel like technologists working in journalism form a community. As we see with much of the data journalism we produce, with this data we’ll be able to hold our institutions and events to account. To push for more representative staff and speakers, more inclusive and responsive workplaces and reporting, and creating space for the growing community of not unicorns, not newbies, but established professionals who are ready to lead journalism institutions that our communities need to speak truth to power and wield tech in responsible and assertive ways.
If you’d like to chat more about the results (or to let us know about how you plan to use them!), feel free to reach out. We’re going to continue working with this data and plan to share it on GitHub soon to make it even easier to dig into. At mid-year, we plan to release another iteration of this survey. Our aim is to make this a resource for members of the community, so if you’d like to help shape the 2017 survey, please contact me.
Thank you to this ever-generous community for sharing your feedback.