When we think about journalism technology, we often imagine tools and hardware, visualizations and metrics. But there’s people behind all that technology and with the News Nerd Survey we have the chance to better understand who the techies are who are driving innovation in news and what they need to sustain their work. (If you consider yourself a News Nerd, please fill out the survey by September 9!)
These “news nerds,” the developers, designers, editors, data analysts, and product folks who work in tech and journalism, have roles in news organizations around the world, on teams of just themselves or dozens of technologists. OpenNews supports this community through events, our website Source, and community infrastructure like this survey. The survey is made possible by the support of Google News Lab and the contributions of a community advisory group including Soo Oh, John S. Knight Fellow; Jennifer Lee of Google News Lab; and Liam Andrew of the Texas Tribune. They shaped questions to illuminate the career pathways in journalism tech, how people build skills, and what type of support would help smaller newsrooms.
How we got here
This survey builds on the work and responses of a News Nerd Census we developed last year, with Scott Klein of ProPublica, Brian Hamman of the New York Times, and Network Impact, the research firm that also developed this year’s survey. After soliciting feedback at ONA and SRCCON in 2015, we knew this community had a lot of questions about itself — everything from tech stack to job title to demographic picture. In the “census,” we largely asked questions about demographics, newsroom role, and what areas of need the person saw in the newsroom and the field. In this year’s survey, we’re able to probe those results even further.
Developing a more complete picture of this community
One of the data points that surprised me most last year was that 44% of respondents have worked in journalism tech for 5 years or more. We often hear data journalism and news nerdery thrown around as a brand new areas of journalism. The longevity of NICAR and the data-driven reporting of bygone generations has easily shown that to be a misnomer, but I still didn’t realize that such a large portion of the field is so well-established. So this year, we have a bunch of questions related to career path and salary. As we better understand how people navigate careers in this field, we’ll be better able to assist if there are any sticking points.
Another area we’re digging into more this year is diversity and inclusion. Last year, it was the top answer to “what does journalism need now?” with 25% of respondents citing it. In the survey this year, there’s questions about personal experience of harassment and microaggressions, to create a clearer picture of the current environments people are working in. As well, there is a question about inclusive policies to help see how many newsrooms have adopted which types of policies. With both of these pieces of information, individuals and organizations will have data they can cite in advocating for policy changes.
Reflecting on the responses last year was extremely influential in our planning at OpenNews. One of the insights that has informed our work the most is that as many journalists do keep talking about tech in terms of tools, the top issues people cited were around capacity, qualifications, and culture — not fancy new tools. We have additional questions this year to understand what skills people in this field want to build — whether they’re technical, managerial, editorial, or otherwise — and how people develop those skills. Even though this field is not as new as people may think, it’s not always clear how this field operates: how people find jobs, navigate their career, find allies and friends to strategize about negotiating for better policies and more representative coverage.
With this survey, we hope to make some of those paths transparent. And not only to share the information, but use it to inform our own programs and to get it into the hands of other journalism organizations that support this community. We will help community members find ways to use this data and push for the changes they want to see in their newsrooms. And each year, we will bring the survey back as a resource with more of the details and insights people need.
News nerds driving newsroom change
News nerds are not HR people. They are sometimes, but not always or often enough, the decision makers in an organization setting policies and shaping the journalistic culture. But even outside of these roles, their influence is large. Their work powers the platforms that serve the work of all of their colleagues, their ingenuity better engages audiences, and their tenacity doesn’t take a misaligned image or error-throwing program for an answer any more than it accepts a newsroom status quo that is not inclusive of marginalized communities.
Many technologists bring perspectives from outside of journalism into the newsroom. I’d venture there are as many art and English majors as computer science majors on newsroom tech teams (and we did add some questions about educational background so I’ll get to see how accurate my hypothesis is). And within tech, many folks in journalism are active in communities fighting for equity and inclusion. These perspectives have already changed how we engage with news online, and they’re slowly changing how we work in news, too.
In December, we’ll release the News Nerd Survey results at SRCCON:Work, an event all about how we support each other in this work. A hundred news nerds will spend two days tackling questions around career, collaboration and self care, and luckily, they’ll have the insights of hundreds of news nerds to draw from in this survey. Please help make sure as many news nerds as possible share their perspectives in the survey!
Erika Owens is a journalist and organizer based in Philadelphia. As Deputy Director with OpenNews, Erika convenes people and projects in journalism tech. If you’d like to discuss the News Nerd Survey results, email her: [email protected]. Follow her @erika_owens on Twitter.