Where necessary, we have added explanations as to why certain questions were asked. These insights flow from the journalists who kindly took the time to share their views and experiences with us. Where we have added our own insights and analysis based on our further work in this space, we have sought to clearly identify this as such. We began our online survey by asking a few questions designed to ascertain the job title, age, and years of experience of our respondents. Together, these two categories represented roughly 54 percent of all respondents.
The largest single group of our respondents 36 percent told us that they had been working in local newspapers for more than 20 years. The second-highest category 21 percent had been working in the sector for between 10 and 19 years. Alongside this, we also asked respondents how old they were. Their ages were relatively evenly distributed, but did skew older: 18—30 27 percent , 31—49 33 percent , plus 39 percent.
Given the transition to digital, 14 we were hoping to get a sense of how journalists at small-market newspapers apportion their time across digital and print properties. Most of our respondents told us that they split their hours between print and digital. Overwhelmingly, respondents said that the focus of their output now includes producing more content for their digital operations.
Small-market newspapers in the digital age
Nearly three-quarters of our online sample 70 percent stated that they spend more time on the digital side of their role, when compared to two years ago. From our sample, 46 percent of respondents indicated that the number of stories they produce has increased during this time, while 37 percent reported that their story load had remained the same.
Subsequently, there still remains a strong emphasis on producing content for print. More than a third 36 percent of participants working on the print product for their paper reported that they are producing more print stories than two years ago. Still, local journalists do recognize the need to grow and focus on digital. In an increasingly fragmented news landscape, they focus their attention on both avenues. Not just one. Despite these self-described changes, meaning the shift to spending more time on output for digital channels and the increased number of stories individuals are expected to produce, working hours have remained relatively consistent for many journalists.
Across our sample, 55 percent of respondents told us that their hours have stayed the same over the past two years, while 34 percent said their hours had increased.
When looking at a typical working week, the average time worked clocked in at 47 hours, while the mean was slightly higher at 50 hours a week. Newspaper staff continue to work above and beyond the standard hour work week. These findings are not unique to the United States. A study from the United Kingdom reported that many local and regional journalists work more than 40 hours a week.
A survey of journalists found that a third reported working between 41 and 45 hours a week, while 19 percent said they worked close to 50 hours a week. Alongside understanding shifts in personal output and working hours, we also wanted to understand how this experience mapped against wider changes in the newsroom. Confirming trend lines previously published by both Pew 19 and CJR, 20 59 percent of our survey participants told us that the number of people working at their publication had decreased when compared to two years ago.
Fewer reporters may mean shallower reporting, while many journalists feel compelled to put in extra hours to ensure they can cover their beat effectively. The biggest challenge facing small-market newspapers is manpower and time. If smaller newspapers had more reporters, more meaningful stories would be told. When staff is limited, so are stories. When time is limited, so is content. Reporters at my newspaper each work hard every day to try to tell more meaningful stories, which is why many of us work overtime on a regular basis to get this done.
A review of the literature on local newspapers suggests that, historically, local newspapers were a jumping-off point for young reporters, with an established progression route through to major metros and national newsrooms. Barriers such as career progression, the diversity of small towns, and low pay were all highlighted as potential issues that newspapers need to be aware of when hiring this next generation of local reporters.
From an editorial standpoint, that journalists are young, relatively untrained, and asked to do so much across multiple platforms. Recruiting and keeping talented reporters. A small market is not always a great sell to potential employees, especially when trying to recruit reporters of color, LGBTQ reporters, etc. It is also difficult to retain reporters for more than a few years.
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When they move to larger markets, they take their knowledge with them. It is difficult to create and maintain institutional knowledge and community rapport with a continuous shift in reporters. Barely making a living wage can take it out of the most dedicated journalist. The consequences of low pay and long hours can be seen in rapid staff turnover at many small-market newspapers.
Often, this turnover can be more acute with newer entrants to the industry. Rapidly changing personnel can be disruptive for communities and newsrooms, and hiring and training are time-consuming processes. While the industry constantly discusses the challenge of getting young news consumers to read and pay for newspapers, an issue we do not hear as much about is getting young reporters to stay in small-market newsrooms.
That a sizable number of local journalists feel secure in their roles may be a reflection that small-market newspapers are not necessarily downsizing in the same way as their metro cousins. Many of them have managed to dodge the layoffs and downsizing that larger papers have had to face.
Reasons for this tempered optimism may include an element of survivor bias among our respondents, or that—following recent cuts in smaller newsrooms—the opportunities for further reducing personnel may be difficult. We know that journalists increasingly use a variety of digital tools to support their profession. Digital tools can create new ways of working for example, the use of Slack as an email replacement , while the emergence of platforms such as Live Video can enable reporters to tell stories and communicate with their audiences in new and engaging ways.
Just because local newspapers have smaller newsrooms than their metro and national peers does not mean they are devoid of innovation and experimentation. Many local titles are exploring digital tools, and doing so with fewer personnel than their larger counterparts. However, the deployment of new digital technologies can be time-consuming, and in resource-challenged environments journalists may not have the hours to add this to their already-busy journalistic plate.
We asked respondents to tell us about some of the emerging communication forms they are using. This included use of popular digital tools and platforms such as video reporting used by 84 percent of respondents , live video 67 percent , and podcasting 25 percent. In our sample, small-market, local newspapers were less likely to use chat apps 5 percent , augmented reality 0 percent , 27,28 and virtual reality 5 percent 29,30,31 —although we know from our wider research that these tools are being used by different newspapers.
The Herald and News in Klamath Falls, Oregon, for example, has produced augmented reality often referred to as AR, for short content on a regular basis since Not surprisingly, Facebook was the most popular social network for personal use. When looking at slightly newer social networks, the personal accounts of journalists on Instagram and Snapchat are overwhelmingly used for non-work purposes. Only five respondents told us their personal Snapchat accounts were primarily used for work.
In contrast, 73 respondents said their personal Snapchat accounts were typically used for activity unrelated to their day jobs. A sizable number of respondents told us that they were eager to learn more about video reporting, live video, and podcasts. Interest in emerging platforms such as chat apps, augmented reality, and virtual reality, however, garnered much lower levels of interest.
These findings are, perhaps, not surprising given the infancy of some of these new technologies. Moreover, fundamental questions about whether these platforms—especially augmented and virtual reality—can be adequately monetized are still being debated.
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Given this, and the fact that small-market newsrooms cannot do everything, 35 local titles need to use their resources wisely. Mainstream media platforms are also likely to be better understood—and used—by the older demographic that tends to consume local news. However, cutting-edge digital platforms may help to engage a younger audience.
I think a lot of small newspapers, along with newspapers of any size, struggle to reach younger audiences. Being 21 years old, I can see that newspapers struggle to reach my generation and those younger. I think we have to come up with unique and innovative ideas to keep them engaged. Although the empirical research on this issue currently remains unconvincing, 37 levels of interest within local newsrooms in these nascent digital tools and technologies may change over time. We believe that this is a space worth watching. Staff at small-market newspapers often needs to be resourceful in learning about industry developments and new digital tools.
Preference for these learning methods ranked far ahead of attending conferences 38 percent or training courses 27 percent.
News & Newspapers
Metrics tools are becoming established tools in small newsrooms. Our final technology-focused question explored the use of metrics in local newsrooms. We were curious to see if use of these technologies—and metrics more generally—had permeated local newsrooms.
More than two-thirds 70 percent of respondents told us their organization—or they themselves—use performance metrics to measure audience engagement. Based on our sample, at an individual level, these metrics are the ones journalists are most likely to pay attention to. Performance metrics have become integral to editorial decisions across the industry in recent years. The fact is that metrics are here to stay. Their use across the spectrum of newspapers— from smaller titles, to major national and international outlets—means that discussions about the impact of metrics must be broadened to include stakeholders from across all tiers of the newspaper industry.
Of these, the experience of smaller newsrooms is the area that is perhaps the least well understood, and thus worthy of further study. Engagement was arguably the media buzzword of 44,45 as publishers moved away from scale and chasing large traffic numbers, toward an increasing focus on deepening their relationships with new and existing audiences.
Reviewing the literature, from both academia and the industry, we see engagement defined as a philosophy, a practice, and a process. Because definitions of engagement can vary, we asked our survey respondents what engagement meant to them, and how they measured it.