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Newsrooms need to build trust with their journalists, not just the audience

“Unless candidates are fully dedicated to the cause of serving democracy, taking the financial and other risks in pursuing a journalism career is not that attractive any longer.”

We will see a debate start around talent.

In recent years, most discussions about innovation circled around tech: Will we have the right tools, formats, processes in place to accommodate for digital change? Or else we’ve been talking about trust: Have we done enough to establish trust with our audiences? Way too little attention has been devoted to the people side of the equation. Will the media industry still be able to attract the talent it needs to build a sustainable future? And have we worked enough on establishing trust in the newsroom to retain the talent that is so dedicated to implementing change that many are prone to burnout?

There’s plenty of reason to worry. First of all, prospects for stable and decently payed employment have worsened in recent years. Journalism is getting less attractive for job seekers who want to make ends meet and raise a family on their income without having a well-to-do background — which, by the way, raises the issue of diversity in newsrooms. Second, there is strong competition for the tech talent desperately needed in the industry. Why should you work for a media organization if you can work for Google, Facebook, and the like and make much more money in a work environment that is more accommodating to the needs of flexibility? Third, the trust and misinformation debate has further undermined the credibility and reputation of journalists. Unless candidates are fully dedicated to the cause of serving democracy, taking the financial and other risks in pursuing a journalism career is not that attractive any longer — not even to mention the safety risks that are increasing in many countries of the world.

In newsrooms, not much has been done to support those working under pressure 24/7 to accommodate for changing news situations and shifting structural requirements at the same time. Traditionally, management skills have not been highly developed in newsrooms, since editors and reporters were rarely trained on them, but they better be in today’s challenging environments. If there is not enough trust building in newsrooms, the industry will face further brain drain.

Some things can be done here. Newsrooms need to reassess their investment needs: Should all their resources really be poured into the latest tools, or is it better invested in attracting, training, and retaining people? Governments could come up with models to support the education and training of journalists who are vital for democracy. And philanthropists can exert their influence by supporting talent development.

The advent of artificial intelligence in newsrooms might increase the attractiveness of the profession, helping journalists focus on high-quality tasks and lightening their workloads. But the opposite could also happen, because AI needs plenty of oversight and some interesting journalism will be done by robots in the future. Then again, that’s a subject worth some elaboration of its own.

Alexandra Borchardt is director of leadership programs at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford.

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