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Credit: Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

The latest report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) has called for a newsroom culture change to secure the future of the industry.

Published this week (15 July 2019), the study "Are journalists today’s coal miners?" explores whether jobs in the media are heading into extinction and if they are, whether a change in approach to recruitment strategies and staff management could stem the flow.

"Coal mining cannot reinvent itself but journalism can," said Alexandra Borchardt, senior research associate, RISJ, who led the project.

"If you want to attract and retain different people, you need culture change. It’s very influential - if you have a sustainable newsroom a culture that attracts talent, they will produce better journalism, which will have a better chance of developing trust and healthier business models."

The study interviewed 18 editors across three countries to gauge how they are managing the talent in their newsrooms in the backdrop of digital transformation in three different markets - UK, US and Sweden.

It found that editors were aware and discussing how to place more value on 'diverse talent', but managing the shift to digital remains their biggest concern. Diversity and inclusion efforts are generally viewed as a luxury that is hard to afford and have rather become a 'nice-to-have.'

Left unchecked, this leaves the door open for diverse talent to leave the industry, especially considering that there are better financial and work-life incentives to work elsewhere.

Add to that the lack of role models in journalism and the fact that reporters often get a bad rap and newsrooms are faced with a problem of both finding and retaining new talent.

A culture change could start a reversal of these trends, Borchardt suggested, adding that disruption was needed in the form of challenging the dominant voices that make the decisions in the newsroom. It may be, after all, that the diverse talent is present but not listened to.

She also challenged newsrooms to look within their midst and determine whether the make-up of reporters can serve all forms of diversity, be that age, background or even political affinity.

"If you discover serious gaps, you need to think about recruitment and making sure talent is even attracted to the newsroom," she explained, adding that this includes promoting diversity from within the organisation and taking a more proactive and direct approach to pulling talent from under-served communities.

"People are just not drawn to journalism as they used to, and it's a rational choice because there are not as many jobs but the media companies still want to exist, so unless they want to shut down, they need talent," she said.

There is an argument that the diverse talent coming through the ranks are well-placed to help navigate some of these digital challenges both in terms of ability and aspiration.

"Modern-day journalists are not afraid of technical challenges, they love trying new formats. But you also need to safeguard the old qualities of journalism and diligent reporting, building reliable sources and talking to people.

"The positive is also that our interviewees who are attracted to the profession are very serious about it, they want to have an impact and they are not necessarily interested in monetary benefits - much more so than ten years ago, many said."

There are some signs that large organisations have recognised the need for culture change and are taking steps to achieve that, she added.

The BBC, for example, has created the Under 30 mentorship scheme which allows reporters under 30-years-old to assume a leadership role as well reverse-mentor senior reporters.

Another example is the German Press Agency that changed its trainee programme to include more paths of progression, from reporters to newsroom editors to technical roles. These are useful lessons as newsrooms need to look for what is working, what is not, and what is still needed.

"You need to collect little tools from other countries that can change culture. These are forward-looking efforts which ask 'What is journalism now, what will it be in the future, and what kind of talent do we need?'," Borchardt concluded.

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