Wednesday, May 07, 2008

At a glance, 2008 Newsroom Barometer indicates editors may agree with market analysts on pathway to success

For news executives scrambling to respond to the pressures on audience numbers and revenues, the findings of the 2008 Newsroom Barometer should be encouraging – or alarming. At first glance, editors seem to agree with analysts that future growth depends on investment.

For editors, the top concerns were people. In the survey, 35% said training journalists in new media skills would be their top priority if they were given resources to invest in editorial quality. The second most common concern was recruiting more journalists, which was chosen by 31 % of editors.

Of course, future success will not come about simply because more journalists are making more stuff, because value doesn’t simply depend on quality or even the availability. It also depends on scarcity.

Consider this example from the headline news: Clean water is important, but where it’s plentiful, it’s not considered very valuable. But, as the aid workers in Burma will tell you, the cyclone has left large swathes of the country under water – salt water – and clean drinking water is scarce and, therefore, very valuable indeed. Not surprisingly, much of the energy and relief money will be spend on just that.

Determining what is scarce in the news and information marketplace – and therefore, potentially, valuable is the first step towards growth for the industry. And that takes investment not only in growing skills of the journalists, but in the building the knowledge of those who manage the business and lead the teams.

Of course, the Newsroom Barometer question was hypothetical (editors where asked what they would do if … ) . Between the newsroom and the market are the business managers. And, for many of them, margins are still all.

But, as Deutche Bank analyst Paul Ginocchio said recently publishers make a mistake by thinking that the market cares more about margins than profit growth. "I think the market knows now that you can’t cut your way to profitability…It’s not a cost issue, it’s a revenue issue. Growth takes investment." Strategic investment (I've argued before) should prioritise building the knowledge required to make better, faster decisions, along with the skills & technologies to do things better, faster.

The global survey gathered the answers of 713 editors and senior news executives from 120 countries, and was conducted online in March 2008 by Zogby International and commissioned by the World Editors Forum and Reuters.

Other highlights:

- 86% believe integrated print and online newsrooms will become the norm, and 83% believe journalists will be expected to be able to produce content for all media within five years.

- Two-thirds believe some editorial functions will be outsourced, despite frequent newsroom opposition to the practice.

- The largest group – 44% – believe on-line will be the most common platform for reading news in the future, compared with 41% last year, while 31% cited print (down from 35%last year), 12% mobile and 7% e-paper. The rest were unsure.

Also see: Reports by the Editors Weblog , , the Guardian, Hold the Front Page , The Geek and Reuters (video).