Attracting Staff in Technology and Data and Improving Diversity Worry News Leaders

The majority of respondents (70%) in a new report say that flexible working has made their news organizations more efficient. But they also acknowledge that creativity, collaboration, attracting staff in technology and data, and diversity beyond gender still need to be better accounted for. Can the lessons of the last 20 months help us find a way?

“Online meetings held during enforced remote working have often been shorter and more business-like, while reduced commuting time has freed up time for more productive work,” says the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in the report titled, Changing Newsrooms 2021: Hybrid Working and Improving Diversity Remain Twin Challenges for Publishers.

That’s one of the positive outcomes of our new virtual work world. Another is that 61% of news leaders surveyed felt the work shift had also, on average, improved the employees’ well-being. On the down side, they worry about burnout and the fairness of a communications system that not everyone excels at. “Effective hybrid working will also require much clearer rules around meetings and perhaps new training for managers in ensuring all voices are equally heard.”

Here are more highlights from the report:

Attracting and retaining the new key positions worries leaders. While news leaders are predictably confident that they can continue to attract good editorial people, they are the least confident (only 18%) when it comes to finding technology workers. And only 27% are confident of attracting and keeping data and insights staff. The problem is that the way the industry is going, technology, data, metrics, infographics and other similar positions will be where help is most needed.

Provide a career path. We all know about the Great Resignation and the worries of keeping good employees. In the past, organizations might have shied away from career centers, but the BBC has now gone all in. “Because people are thinking about their careers more than ever, during the pandemic we launched the Career Development Forum, which is giving people advice, career tips, CV workshops, [advice on] how to deal with career anxiety, which a lot of people are facing at the moment,” said Katie Lloyd, development director, BBC News & Current Affairs.

Diversity remains a challenge. While 78% of leaders believe their gender diversity (78%) has greatly improved, the percentages drop significantly when it comes to ethnic diversity (38%), diversity from less advantaged backgrounds (37%), and political diversity (33%). What’s the answer? More training for managers, dedicated working groups, greater outreach to colleges (community and four-year) in diverse communities, and insistence on broader palettes of panelists, sources and feature subjects.

Virtual helps here… Most leaders believe that online meetings have helped to make that process more inclusive and fair. “What we found was that having everybody joining on Teams made it much more meritocratic. Probably about 50% more people dialed in to listen to the editor’s conversation than ever before’, says Reuters’ Jane Barrett. “When participants are all the same squares on a digital video platform, those old hierarchies—who sits at the top of the table or next to whom—are suddenly less visible and less imposing.”

But hinders there… Leaders believe remote work has had a negative impact on “softer skills such as creativity, communication and collaboration, both within teams and across the organization. Almost half (48%) felt creativity had got worse and more than four in ten (43%) felt communication had suffered too. I’ve often pointed to another study that says innovation needs an in-person collaborative jolt to get going before moving to virtual.

Offer more training. “With fewer opportunities to ‘learn by osmosis’ in the newsroom itself, some companies like Reuters are developing online mentoring programs and encouraging networking groups for next-generation journalists and other groups,” the report says. “Others are beefing up formal training, including talks from senior journalists and editors. These alternatives may help fill the gap but for many new recruits they are a poor substitute for picking up skills from experienced colleagues in the cut and thrust of a busy newsroom.”

Refine the best ways for managers to keep up with staff. According to the report, “managers feel they are bearing the brunt of major changes to operational working with the extra burden of communicating with and motivating staff they rarely see face to face.” “Being virtual does tend to push you back into silos,” said Phil Chetwynd, global news director of AFP. The report mentions the difficulty to balance “operational requirements with new expectations from employees around flexibility and personal autonomy…”

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