The increasing consumption of news on digital platforms is forcing news organizations to rethink their news production cycles and staffing patterns.
Most journalists, like other employees, prefer a normal
pattern of life—going to work in the morning and leaving work in the
afternoon—because it is conducive to social and familial life and enjoying the
cultural amenities that communities have to offer. This preference helped keep
afternoon newspapers the standard in the U.S. until 2000, when morning
newspapers surpassed afternoon papers for the first time.
Even before that time, however, news production cycles and staffing
patterns brought the majority of journalists to the office in the daytime hours,
with the number of staff in newsrooms dwindling until morning papers “went to bed” about
midnight. Most newsrooms then turned off the lights, and only a few larger
metro papers sometimes kept a skeletal crew of police/fire reporters and
photographers in the newsroom overnight.
That staffing pattern has changed little since the beginning
of the digital age. Today, most newsrooms complete and upload news stories for
digital sites before midnight or set electronic release times to out them up
about the time the print edition is delivered. Efforts to update stories
overnight for digital services is only made for the largest, most
important breaking stories.
This is creating a problem in digital news provision,
however, because one of the largest spikes in use of online and mobile apps
occurs between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. for most news providers. This means that the
news is 8-12 hours stale by the time it is accessed--hardly the immediacy that
digital news organizations suggest they provide.
This challenge is now inducing leading news organizations to
rethink when and how they staff newsrooms and provide news on digital
platforms. They using the better
audience metrics that are available to understand when audiences read most of
their content on different platforms and reviewing when they publish most of
their content on those platforms. The intent is to coordinate peak consumption
with publication that keeps material fresh wherever it is accessed.
Pursuing the strategy will be easier for organizations than
others. The Guardian, for example, maintains newsrooms in New York, London, and
Sydney, so its digital operations can be staffed round the clock to cover
international and breaking news, rotating staffing with the movement of the
globe so it doesn’t have to maintain significant overnight staffing in all the
newsrooms. This follows a pattern set earlier by some international news agencies and news broadcasters.
For metropolitan papers, providing morning digital news
consumers with fresh content will require increased overnight staffing or
cooperation with other newspapers or news agencies to create means for
automatic updates to international and national news on the papers' digital platforms. Few
mid-sized and small news organizations are likely to staff overnight, but may
be interested in automatic update services for their digital products from
trusted news agencies.
Changes in the hours work takes place will concern journalists unions where overnight local staffing is required and they will be focus on how overnight staff is selected and additional compensation for less desirable work hours.
Nevertheless, the concerns of editors of digital platforms to keep
material fresh, increasing demands of consumers for immediacy—especially when
they are paying for digital access, and the growing importance of digital
subscription revenue all are impelling managers to rethink the ways and times
at which news is produced and this will increasingly alter the patterns of
staffing within news organizations.