Study: Data and platform-based jobs grow substantially in NYC newsrooms

NEW MEDIA JOBS are on the rise, including a growth in data journalism and social media-based positions. Take, for instance, recent hiring at ProPublica. In April 2017, the outlet’s homepage advertised eight open positions, six of which were focused on data or news applications. Quartz has a Things Team dedicated to “data-driven, visual, and otherwise creative journalism,” and Vox has a team solely focused on creating content for Snapchat.

Even so, a 2017 International Center for Journalists study found that although technical skills in newsrooms were increasing, there was still a significant gap in competency between programmers hired specifically for technical work and reporters working in newsrooms. And as the American Press Institute noted late last year, these skills might be more important than ever: The modern journalist needs to find and fight misinformation, but doing so requires computational skills that are often missing.

A new study from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism examines the career trajectories of New York City journalists to better understand how technical skills have developed in newsrooms since 2010. To do so, we collected the employment histories for 6,116 newsroom staffers and freelancers for newspaper, broadcast, and digital-first companies in the New York City metropolitan area. The 24,598 jobs worked by those individuals were manually aggregated from LinkedIn and verified using other sources, then coded for analysis.

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We find that data, analytic, and platform-based (DAP) jobs have grown substantially in newspaper and online media companies, now accounting for an estimated 9 percent of all jobs in those companies, while the share of traditional, non-DAP jobs decreased 8 percent in online media (9 percent in newspapers and 5 percent in broadcast). These skills have quickly become critical to the day-to-day functioning of newsrooms.

We also wanted to understand how employees move from company to company, and from industry to industry. To do this, we looked at the connections between companies, and between industries, based on employees moving between those companies. The following visualization shows the movement of employees working in DAP roles between NYC-based media companies from 2010 and 2015. 

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Companies were included in this network if they hired an individual into a DAP role, or if they hired an individual from a DAP role. In total, 736 companies were included in the network, and there were 1,071 cases where employees moved from one company to another. Lines between two organizations indicate that an employee left one organization to work for the other. The size of the organization’s circle indicates the relative number of employees moving through that organization.

Outlets such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, HuffPost, and Condé Nast are important influencers in this network. They occupy central positions, as many employees working in New York City media passed through these companies during this five-year period. Functioning as training grounds, they provide many employees with early on-the-job education that serves to shape subsequent years of their careers.

Notably, there is not a significant influx of employees from outside industries. High-tech companies such as Google are present in the network, but they are not central nor influential. Growth of data and platform-based jobs appears to be driven from within the industry.

Data indicates, however, that industry leaders within our sample employment network are starting to fill key positions (managers, digital editors, and others) by hiring from outside industries. While this type of recruitment requires additional resources, including higher salaries, companies such as HuffPost and Condé Nast are spearheading this emerging trend.

Our analysis, paired with prior work, suggests that when strategizing hiring practices, diversifying employee pools and skill sets, and adapting to new technology and modes of news production, newsrooms should think more broadly around talent investment. For larger media companies, the investment in new skills from other industries is a critical and strategic part of enabling success in technologically enabled newsrooms.

Beyond hiring, there is a need for renewed investment in training journalists to develop technical skills. Given the trend toward recruitment from within the news industry, it is important to foster the growth of new skills among existing reporters. But again, that training shouldn’t necessarily come from within; sparking innovation requires new ideas from afield.

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Matthew S. Weber and Allie Kosterich are fellows at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism. Matthew S. Weber is an associate professor at Rutgers University in the School of Communication and Information, and he has published extensively on the role of technology in newsrooms. Allie Kosterich is an assistant professor at Pace University in the Department of Media, Communications, and Visual Arts; her research focuses on media industry transformation.