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Transforming newsrooms from print to online discussed by Sue Robinson April 18, 2009

Posted by Raquel in symposium.
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Sue Robinson from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, talked about her research paper on “Technology, Physical Organization and Spatial Culture in the Transforming Newsroom.”

Robinson has been working for a year at a community newspaper that wants to make the switch to an entirely digital platform. She started with an anecdote in which all the reporters were given laptops, and the way they reacted to it. So she started an in-depth investigation about how tools affect news performance and newsroom’s culture. Giving a laptop to a reporter implies for one that he doesn’t have to be physically in the newsroom, that work can be taken home, that management is a little off because managers don’t necessarily see them in the office.

“My big finding was that in these newsrooms newspaper culture lingers,” she said. By that she means that people value having a print version they want to keep as a clip or hold in their hand. So there’s a physical blockade in the online panel.

Also, emailing and AIM is replacing the traditional personal physical interaction in the newsroom. So essentially, we’re developing virtual stories.

“They would have this solidarity and would stay true to journalism,” she said.

Several months into the transition, all of a sudden she started seeing a shift in reporters who would come in and push completely for getting their story on the web.

“As reporters began to realize that they now had a national and international audience, they warmed up to the web,” she said.

She concluded that stories are altered in the sense that online they’re not finished. It becomes omnipresent work, yet Robinson counteracted that notion by arguing that interactivity presents an advantage.


A link to the pdf is not available, but here’s the abstract to her research:

This research delves into the spatial dynamics of the changes in relation to the transforming workplace culture. An ethnography of a hybrid newsroom and depth interviews with journalists in transitioning places comprised the method; an understanding of the relationships and interactions of journalists in their physical, virtual and symbolic spaces informed the analysis. Two main findings emerged: 1) Technology, acting as both liberator and albatross, has taken on corporeal form, referred to in spatial terms and even replacing news workers such as photographers in some newsrooms. And 2) Despite the best efforts of journalists to instill textual-style boundaries in this new world, spatially sporadic digital newsrooms are forming that are inhospitable to old-world reporters and traditional concepts of news work and news products. As a result the expectations and assumptions within newsroom hierarchy are having to evolve, and news “homes” now represent a place for the process of journalism to take place, as much as for the product itself to live.