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Faculty Research: Allie Kosterich, Ph.D.

Uncategorized | Sep 11, 2020 |

By Chelsee Pengal


With the rise of digital journalism, news organizations have undergone a dramatic shift in how they develop content and distribute it. Technological advances combined with the rapid growth of data generation mean news is no longer only printed in newspapers and delivered to your doorstep. As digital technology has developed, newspaper circulation has decreased and the traditional newsroom has evolved. 

How are media companies adapting to such immense institutional change? What does the transformation in the industry mean for its workers? Allie Kosterich, Ph.D., assistant professor of communications and media management at the Gabelli School, explored these questions in a 2019 paper published in the Journal of Media Business Studies. She conducted semi-structured interviews with 20 news editors and managers across 17 global news firms to learn about strategies companies are using to manage the digital world of journalism and its evolving workforce.

“News nerds,” as Kosterich calls them, are news industry professionals working in jobs “at the intersection of traditional journalist positions and technologically intensive positions that were once largely separate.” For example, they may also be hired as programmers, coders, data specialists, or news application developers. While news nerds use specific technical skills, they are incorporated into the workflow of the established journalist profession with the goal of producing news more effectively and efficiently. 

“This is different from our traditional understanding of journalists,” she said, “so with that comes a lot of new challenges to address.” One is that the industry tends to move slowly. “There’s a lot of organizational hesitation and inertia to hire these people,” said Kosterich, due in part to the reluctance of the news industry to embrace change, even in the face of digital disruption.

Another challenge for the journalists themselves is that there’s no set career path. “Because news nerds represent a relatively new workforce, the people at management levels may not be experts in this field,” she said. Therefore, the plan for how these journalists can grow and advance is more nebulous.

There’s also no standard way to integrate news nerds into an organization. Through her interviews, Kosterich found that some companies, in an effort to quickly adapt, hire people from the science and technology industries without news experience. Others are able to take the time and resources to train journalists in the technical skills now required in the newsroom. 

Which approach is more effective? It depends, Kosterich said. Looking outside means a new hire may bring a fresh perspective that could be crucial for rapid change. While organizational theory says big change often happens from the outside in, Kosterich found that was only the case at the beginning of this industry shift. In fact, once the initial idea of news nerds started to take hold, the change frequently emerged from the inside, and she saw a lot of “home-grown journalists that were learning new skills.”

The desire to hire from within is reflected in one interviewee’s remarks on hiring news nerds who didn’t come from a journalism program: “It was very hard to instill a kind of passion or curiosity for the news” that is essential.

Ultimately, the goal of Kosterich’s research is to provide managers with recommendations for recruiting and retention that can complement their existing workforce and help them “survive and thrive in the digital age.”

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