We surveyed 756 people at the intersection of journalism and technology to understand who they are, how they learn and support one another, and where they go next.
The “news nerd community” of developers, designers, editors, data analysts, and product folks who work in tech and journalism has built a vibrant network that pushes for technical and cultural change in newsrooms. This survey helps us understand how these roles operate in journalism and how to support the career trajectories of this community. OpenNews conducted the first version of this survey last year and led the development of the 2017 survey, with the support of Google News Lab and a community advisory group.
756 news nerds responded to the survey. While they were sourced from the intersection of journalism and technology, it does not perfectly represent the industry. Let’s take a closer look.
First, the survey respondents were 57% male. While we could have hoped for more gender diversity among respondents, the group is more balanced than last year (41% female in 2017 vs. 33% female in 2016).
Roughly three-quarters of the respondents were white. 38% were 30 years old and younger. The survey was also international, with 25% of respondents residing outside the US. The top 3 reported job titles were reporter (112), developer (102), and editor (102).
Learning and Support
Let’s dive into the results. With traditional journalists, designers, and coders working hand-in-hand, the journalism tech community is an eclectic bunch. So this raises the question: how did people find their way into the field in the first place? It seems to be some mixture of formal training, self-study, and mentorship.
A majority of respondents followed a circuitous path into journalism tech. Over half of respondents who provided information on their educational background received an undergraduate or graduate degree in a field other than journalism or computer science.
Over 90% of respondents cited self-study as “important” or “very important” in the development of the skills they currently use as a “news nerd.” That’s much more than their undergrad degree (24%) or graduate degree (41%), if they received one.
People who spend more time on reporting than coding were more likely to cite a colleague’s mentorship as a key part of their skill development than coders. But compared to coders, a smaller percentage of reporters claimed to have taught, mentored, or supported others in the last year. Reporters find mentoring more valuable than coders, yet fewer of them do it.
Skills and Career Development
The survey also provided insight into the kinds of skills that news nerds are interested in building and how these relate to challenges facing their newsrooms. While many news nerds hope to develop technical abilities, they’re also interested in building managerial skills and bringing in project management support. How might we facilitate skill development in new and emerging roles?
Nearly half of non-technical respondents (those who marked that they “never” spend time coding) also chose a technical skill.
When asked about the type of person they would want to add to their existing team, 48% of respondents cited a role that requires technical skills (data, web development, engineering, newsroom tools). But the top response overall, from 8% of respondents, was "project manager." Managerial, editorial, and team communication roles were mentioned by 23% of respondents.
Despite the overwhelming desire to add technical talent, only 32% of respondents said that recruiting technologists was a major challenge facing the industry. The top-cited challenges (below) potentially explain respondents’ desire for managerial roles on their team.
Biggest challenge facing your newsroom...to developing / using technology as a core journalistic practice? (all that apply)
Too many projects
Balance between own projects and newsrooms’
Lack of editors qualified to supervise technologists
Lack of budget
Hard to recruit technologists
Org. doesn’t understand value of work
Diversity and Inclusion
Finally, let’s take a look at diversity and inclusion in the workplace. It came up as a top area of concern in last year’s survey and this year proved to be no different. How can news organizations engage with staff and stakeholders to promote healthier work environments?
When asked about the three things that the journalism tech community “needs” right now, 29% of people cited some variant of “diversity.” This represents a 4% increase from last year.
What does the journalism tech community need now? Name your top 3 things.
Newsrooms have made some strides to implement more inclusive programs. Among respondents who reported their newsroom’s policies, 64% stated that they have parental leave.
Yet less than 13% reported that they were aware that their newsroom had a policy or practice for salary parity.
Newsrooms also have a ways to go if they’re going to eliminate all forms of harassment. 20% of respondents who work at a news or media organization reported that they were the target of microaggressions or direct harassment in the course of their job. Harassment tends to happen more often inside the newsroom—by managers, coworkers or other personnel—than outside the newsroom with sources or interviewees.
Part of what inspires us about this community is how folks are able to turn to one another for advice and support, so now we turn to you! We encourage you to explore this data, interrogate it, and let us know what you find. You can download the data here.
While you’re looking over the data, we’re also going to continue analyzing it. Soo Oh did an analysis of the salary data. Plus, Soo will have a few more pieces during 2018 as she continues to analyze the data and interview respondents.
Along with Soo, OpenNews will continue working with this data and sharing it with community members to help advocate for change in your newsroom. We’re also sharing it with other journalism organizations, so they can act on this data like we have. If you want to chat more, again, please reach out.
This data has already influenced OpenNews’ work. You’ll see it referenced in SRCCON:WORK sessions and talks. It is also influencing upcoming planning and you’ll see it in OpenNews’ programming. Some highlights are:
Finding ways to support developing managers and project management skills. News nerds wear many hats and with your wide range of experiences, you’re extremely well positioned to take on more management work. We want to help make that happen.
Finding ways to make it easier to connect with other members of the community, and illuminating the well-trod pathways folks use. We don’t need to reinvent any wheels, because you’re already a generous, accessible group. We just want to make that more transparent, especially for new folks.
Finding ways to support the implementation of inclusive policies and help you hold your organizations accountable for results.
The News Nerd Survey was organized by OpenNews, with the guidance of a community advisory group, the survey design and development of Network Impact, and the support of Google News Lab.
The community advisory group includes Soo Oh, John S. Knight Fellow; Jennifer Lee, Google News Lab; and Liam Andrew, The Texas Tribune.
The Network Impact team includes Anne Whatley, Madeleine Taylor, Amanda Rounsaville Welsh.
Project management from OpenNews by Erika Owens.
This data visualization was made by Polygraph, advised by Alberto Cairo and Simon Rogers.
Filters are abbreviated (i.e., “White” corresponds to survey respondents who identified as Non-Hispanic White or Euro-American). Filter options follow from the following: How do you identify racially/ethnically? Answers: Non-Hispanic White or Euro-American / Black, Afro-Caribbean, or African American / Latino or Hispanic American / Asian American / Middle Eastern or Arab American / Native American or Alaskan Native / Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander / Multi-ethnic / Multi-racial / Write-in.
“Other response” includes answers that were not “Male,” “Female,” or “Prefer not to say.” Survey respondents answered the following question: What is your gender? Female / Male / Non-binary or third gender / Prefer not to say / Prefer to self-describe
Technical respondents were determined by whether they spent, at minimum, a small portion of their time coding. Non-technical respondents “never” spent time coding.