20200
P
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20100
R  E
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2070
D   I   C
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2050
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2040
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2020
I  S  M  2  0  2  0
7

Five generations of journalists, learning from each other

“A news outlet that embraces a diversity of generations and experiences creates an environment where innovation, openness, and creativity can truly thrive.”

2020 will be the beginning of a new culture in journalism — one that leverages the expertise of five generations of journalists.

The Knight Foundation’s journalism team recently attended a conference where the conversation centered on how newsroom leadership is managing across generations. In many newsrooms, and across many industries, there are up to five generations working side by side: Traditionalists (born before 1946), Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), Generation X (born between 1965 and 1976), Generation Y/Millennials (born between 1977 and 1997), and Generation Z (born after 1997).

Each generation’s trajectory in journalism was vastly different. Two of the self-identified Boomer journalists noted they were promoted to lead a major department in their newsroom by their late 20s and early 30s. They experienced the golden age of journalism when resources were bountiful and there were numerous competitors in local communities.

The Gen X journalists in the room were shocked because their career trajectories included a series of lateral moves before hitting the journalism leadership jackpot, if they ever did. They were on the forefront of digital transition. While some were able to thrive, many peers left the industry.

The millennial journalists, the generation born into digital, don’t know what growth looks like in journalism. They jump from newsroom to newsroom until they land in a major market or at a national outlet. And, even then, sometimes they find there’s no path for advancement.

Some people are living longer and healthier lives and choosing to work well into their retirement years; others are still recovering from the economic effects of the 2008 recession and have no choice but to work longer than they’d planned. This might not be as great of a problem if journalism jobs were plentiful or if there were more mobility.

The industry, particularly the local newspaper sector, has been in decline the past decade. With media consolidation, erosion of local newsrooms, and financial instabilities, newsroom employment declined 25 percent between 2008 and 2018, according to CJR’s Layoff Tracker. In 2019 alone, there were more than 3,000 job losses.

While the work style, digital fluency, and even the definition of what journalism should be can vary greatly between the five generations, this is also a unique moment when news outlets can foster cross-generational knowledge mentoring and reinterpret what quality journalism can be in a networked era. A news outlet that embraces a diversity of generations and experiences creates an environment where innovation, openness, and creativity can truly thrive.

We predict 2020 will be the beginning of a new culture in journalism, and already we are seeing some positive signals of that change.

  • A culture that values equity and inclusion and not upholding the status quo. For example, a spreadsheet circulated this year gathering self-reported salaries from journalists across the country and disciplines. That illustrated how the issue of pay equity has moved into the center of discussions about work and fairness in journalism.
  • A culture that values community participation in journalism instead of “we talk, you listen.” For example, Outlier Media, a project led by Sarah Alvarez and Candice Fortman, identifies and addresses the information and journalism needs of local residents via SMS. Outlier Media texts more than 400 Detroiters a week and produces investigative reporting to lift those community issues. This is a collaboration between journalists and community.
  • A culture where power is shared to accelerate innovation in journalism. For example, Minnesota Public Radio supported and gave runway to Sahan Journal, a new digital nonprofit dedicated to providing authentic news reporting for and about immigrants and refugees in Minnesota.

This prediction was written by the Knight Foundation’s LaSharah S. Bunting, Paul Cheung, and Karen Rundlet.

2020 will be the beginning of a new culture in journalism — one that leverages the expertise of five generations of journalists.

The Knight Foundation’s journalism team recently attended a conference where the conversation centered on how newsroom leadership is managing across generations. In many newsrooms, and across many industries, there are up to five generations working side by side: Traditionalists (born before 1946), Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), Generation X (born between 1965 and 1976), Generation Y/Millennials (born between 1977 and 1997), and Generation Z (born after 1997).

Each generation’s trajectory in journalism was vastly different. Two of the self-identified Boomer journalists noted they were promoted to lead a major department in their newsroom by their late 20s and early 30s. They experienced the golden age of journalism when resources were bountiful and there were numerous competitors in local communities.

The Gen X journalists in the room were shocked because their career trajectories included a series of lateral moves before hitting the journalism leadership jackpot, if they ever did. They were on the forefront of digital transition. While some were able to thrive, many peers left the industry.

The millennial journalists, the generation born into digital, don’t know what growth looks like in journalism. They jump from newsroom to newsroom until they land in a major market or at a national outlet. And, even then, sometimes they find there’s no path for advancement.

Some people are living longer and healthier lives and choosing to work well into their retirement years; others are still recovering from the economic effects of the 2008 recession and have no choice but to work longer than they’d planned. This might not be as great of a problem if journalism jobs were plentiful or if there were more mobility.

The industry, particularly the local newspaper sector, has been in decline the past decade. With media consolidation, erosion of local newsrooms, and financial instabilities, newsroom employment declined 25 percent between 2008 and 2018, according to CJR’s Layoff Tracker. In 2019 alone, there were more than 3,000 job losses.

While the work style, digital fluency, and even the definition of what journalism should be can vary greatly between the five generations, this is also a unique moment when news outlets can foster cross-generational knowledge mentoring and reinterpret what quality journalism can be in a networked era. A news outlet that embraces a diversity of generations and experiences creates an environment where innovation, openness, and creativity can truly thrive.

We predict 2020 will be the beginning of a new culture in journalism, and already we are seeing some positive signals of that change.

  • A culture that values equity and inclusion and not upholding the status quo. For example, a spreadsheet circulated this year gathering self-reported salaries from journalists across the country and disciplines. That illustrated how the issue of pay equity has moved into the center of discussions about work and fairness in journalism.
  • A culture that values community participation in journalism instead of “we talk, you listen.” For example, Outlier Media, a project led by Sarah Alvarez and Candice Fortman, identifies and addresses the information and journalism needs of local residents via SMS. Outlier Media texts more than 400 Detroiters a week and produces investigative reporting to lift those community issues. This is a collaboration between journalists and community.
  • A culture where power is shared to accelerate innovation in journalism. For example, Minnesota Public Radio supported and gave runway to Sahan Journal, a new digital nonprofit dedicated to providing authentic news reporting for and about immigrants and refugees in Minnesota.

This prediction was written by the Knight Foundation’s LaSharah S. Bunting, Paul Cheung, and Karen Rundlet.

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