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Observatorio (OBS*)

versão On-line ISSN 1646-5954

OBS* vol.8 no.2 Lisboa jun. 2014

 

New Demands on Editorial Leadership: Perceived Changes in Swedish Newspaper Management

 

Ulrika Andersson* & Jenny Wiik**

* Ph.D. and Senior Lecturer at the Dept. of Journalism, Media and Communication, University of Gothenburg, Box 100, S-405 30 Gothenburg, Sweden. (ulrika.andersson@jmg.gu.se)

** Ph.D. and Senior Lecturer at the Dept. of Journalism, Media and Communication, University of Gothenburg, Box 100, S-405 30 Gothenburg, Sweden. (jenny.wiik@jmg.gu.se)

 

ABSTRACT

The last decades in the development of news production have accentuated the need for increased managerial skills among editorial leaders. This need is followed by discursive notions connecting management levels across sectors, including the sector of news production. The managerial ideology features globalization of values and economy in the labor market, as well as in the area of communication, and promotes streamlining of organizational models in line with a business thinking common to several industries. This kind of management ideology has implications for all levels of news work and, above all, emphasizes audience orientation to a further extent than before. Our article focuses on how editorial leaders in Sweden perceive their own role as leaders to be changing and why. It does so by drawing empirical support from a mixed methods design of three surveys of editors-in-chief in Sweden, conducted in 2005, 2010, and 2011. The result reveals that editorial leaders are strongly embracing values characterized by managerialism by bringing the key values of profit, efficiency, and leadership into the newsroom. They also perceive their managerial influence to have increased in the newsroom. As this kind of leadership is rather new to Scandinavian news media, the article discusses what kind of implications this new form of leadership may have for news organizations in facing new challenges.

Keywords: editorial leadership, journalism, management, market orientation, news work

 

Introduction

Society in general and the media especially have gone through substantial changes over the past decades. Some of these changes arise from technological developments and socio-economic changes; others are tied to deregulations of social institutions and globalization of values, for example by emphasizing market-orientation, efficiency demands, and higher profitability in both corporations and the public sector (e.g., Franklin, 2012; McChesney & Nichols, 2010; Harrington, 2008; Baldasty, 1992). News organizations have always been pulled between the conflicting interests of democracy and the market, which extensively has come to mark the organization of journalistic work. These organizations may perhaps best be described as hybrids driven by ideals of professional journalism as well as ideals of business administration. Despite their hybridity, however, news organizations have traditionally been regarded as divided into journalism-oriented and business-oriented parts of the enterprise (Djerf Pierre & Weibull, 2011; Croteau & Hoynes, 2009; McManus, 1994).

This division has, at least in Northern Europe, resulted in a two-tier leadership of news firms: some organizational units, such as administration, sales, technology, and distribution, have for long been governed by the CEO, while editorial decisions have been made by the editor-in-chief (Ohlsson, 2012; Wilberg, 2002). Development of this dual leadership is often referred to as the ongoing struggle between journalistic ideals and market demands. The separation of the two spheres of activity also has a strong ideological valence, and polarized conceptions of newspaper production as commercial and/or editorial praxis are associated with respective management functions. There is an inherent tension involving the two roles: between editors and managers, capital and ideals, ''the Marketplace'' and ''the Cathedral'' (Eide, 2002; McManus, 1994; Franklin & Murphy, 1991).

This duality is not static, however. As competition grows tougher and economic considerations become increasingly central, the role of editorial leadership becomes vital. Operating in the new, constantly transforming business environment of news production raises the need for business competence within organizations (Bartosova, 2011; Gade, 2008; Achtenhagen & Raviola, 2007). In this article, we concentrate on the editorial leaders as we believe them to be significant key players in the changing media climate. Leaders are furthermore important indicators of the current development of media, being responsible as they are for handling external as well as internal challenges that may appear in the news organization.

The role of editorial leadership is especially delicate due to the above-mentioned tension between different ideals, as leaders must fulfill both social and democratic tasks along with meeting the financial demands of the organization (cf. Redmond, 2006). It is, therefore, of interest to investigate how leaders themselves perceive this situation. What demands are imperative as editorial leaders to perform their professional role? To what extent do they perceive their role as leader to have changed over the past decade? Are there any signs of a growing managerial ideology within the newsroom, and if so, what implications may this have for the news organization? Our study attempts to address these questions by focusing on the case of editors-in-chief of Swedish newspapers; not because they are stretched between editorial and economic considerations, but because it is they who must combine and handle these considerations in the revaluation of a business model that is currently going downhill.

 

Changing News Organizations

The problem addressed in this study is representative of Western news media in general; even though it could be argued that the Anglo-American sphere has pushed it even further (McChesney & Nichols, 2010). Development may be attributed to tougher competition and the fierce financial demands of media firms, but it is also part of a general social trend in which work and leadership become increasingly professionalized and standardized. The Swedish case illustrates those changes well, experiencing rapid deregulation of the media market as well as an extensive digitalization process in just a couple of decades.

A simplified picture of the Swedish media market up until the late 1980s illustrates an arena for monopoly public service channels and quality daily newspapers with strong geographical and demographic roots (Weibull & Jonsson, 2007). As the number of media firms and media forms expanded during the 1990s and early 2000s, the situation gradually changed. Technological developments and the gradual deregulation of the public service monopoly spawned a new competitive situation, especially for daily newspapers, as new commercial channels toughened the competition for advertisers. In addition, the press met great setbacks in terms of socio-economic changes during the 1990 recession and the emergence of free dailies and online news channels (Hadenius, Weibull, & Wadbring, 2011). In sum, these changes have had a severe effect on the game plan for Swedish newspapers. Since the early 1990s, the industry has seen a sharp decline in circulation as the number of copies sold per day decreased from five million in 1990 to barely three million in 2012 (Tidningsstatistik AB, 2013).

The Swedish newspaper business has, as a consequence of falling audience rates and revenues, experienced a series of mergers, acquisitions, and cross-collaborations during the past decades (Ohlsson, 2012; Sundin, 2011). Other changes following from this situation have been staff cuts and a significant increase in newspapers' audience orientation. For example, the restructuring of editorial content and format changes have been justified by the argument that newspapers seek to satisfy public demand (Andersson, 2009). Using the definition of Porter and Rivkin's (2000) three stages of industry transformation, the media industry in Sweden is currently at the stage of experimentation, trying to enter the last stage of transformation to a new, stable structure. In this process, adapting or changing the news product and reorganizing newspaper business operations have been crucial for survival in a fiercely competitive media market.

As structural conditions of the media have changed over the past decades, the economic perspective has increasingly spread further from the business units to the news desks. Although a two-tier leadership still exists at many newspapers, it appears that managerial perspectives are becoming increasingly integrated into the work of editors-in-chief. In fact, some newspapers have experienced the merging of organizational leadership as the CEO is given the roles of liable editor and chief editor in combination (cf. Djerf Pierre & Weibull, 2011; Ronning, 2007). The previously clear line between journalism and management established during the early days of journalistic professionalization must, therefore, be considered much less distinct today.

These transitions have also meant that editorial leaders gradually changed their perception of the news product, for instance, due to an increased awareness of how market influences affect the newspaper (Andersson, 2009). Such development has led to occasional confrontations and conflicts among members of the newsroom, involving editorial leaders and journalists in a continuous negotiation of control. This negotiation principally moves between efficient production of news content on the one hand and adequate financial compensation, freedom, and status of journalists on the other (Andersson & Wiik, 2013; Fortunati & Sarrica, 2010). The gap within media firms has historically been best described as a vertical line between editors and marketers/owners, but more recent studies have pointed to an emerging horizontal line found between editors-in-chief and journalists (Andersson & Wiik, 2013; Wiik, 2010; Andersson, 2009).

 

Managerial Influence in the Newsroom

As media ownership has increasingly been marked by fusions, rationalizations, and coordination, it has become necessary for editorial leaders to develop organizational and economic skills to a greater extent than before (Djerf & Weibull, 2011; cf. Aris & Bughin, 2009). Also, the development of new media technology has accentuated the need for technical skills among those leaders (Bartosova, 2011; Skillset, 2009). Bartosova (2011:198) argues that media managers in the convergent media ecosystem must possess "convergent skills;" (i.e., content production, multiplatform and technology skills, people skills in working with the creative employees, and business acuity).

This convergence between publicist and managerial roles in media companies has partly been forced by the developments in the media ecosystem, but partly also by an increasingly influential managerial ideology. The rise of such ideology has been seen in other professional fields too and is commonly described as one of the most notable features of the contemporary organizational world, as it pervades both the public and the private sectors alike (Deem & Brehony, 2005; Clarke & Newman, 1997; Pollitt, 1993). Managerial ideology in this context refers to the belief that all organizations are very much the same, meaning there is no dramatic difference in running a large scale factory or a news agency-the performance of all organizations can be optimized by removing obstacles to management (Enteman, 1993; cf. Deem & Behony, 2005). There is an ideological difference, however, between traditional free-market thinking and managerial ideology as the latter follows the neoliberal strand in which corporations, rather than small owner-managed firms, are taken as the model for all forms of social and institutional organizing.

When breaking into new areas, managerial ideology challenges the established principles and practices often represented by professionals; in this case, journalistic praxis. This means, for example, that the kind of expertise and exclusive knowledge that in journalism have been translated to the dogma of "giving the audience what it does not know it wants" (Petersson, 1994) is challenged by managerial ideology as it expresses a greater emphasis on audience orientation. Monitoring employee performance and encouraging self-monitoring is another central part of this ideology (Deem & Brehony, 2005), a practice which in the area of journalism can be ascribed to the increasing focus on audience ratings and online "click" counting. Also, the values of efficiency and effectiveness are extensively pursued (cf. Farrell & Morris, 2003), may it be the number of articles written per journalist a day, or restructuring of the labor force to enable more teamwork and flexibility (cf. Vogt, 2001). Managerial ideology further generalizes business language (Hood, 2000): while journalists from their professional perspective commonly talk about "audiences" or "readers," the language of management include concepts such as "customers" or "users." Other themes typical to the new organizational type are multidisciplinary practice, increasingly individualized rewards, and tendencies toward globalization (Brock, Powell, & Hinings, 1999).

Caught in the eye of this development, we find the editorial leaders. This group most often has a background as reporters and consequently are highly familiar with the work of professional journalism, may it be in daily practice or at a normative level. The human capital of professional journalism is of course extremely valuable to news organizations-quality journalism still being their core product (Picard, 2009, 2004). This means that editorial leaders must strive accordingly to balance the publishing practice against rationalizations of editorial costs, since a too strong emphasis on the latter risks hurting the sales pitch. In relation to the past decades' transformations of news media systems, it is thus of importance to investigate how these managers perceive their roles to be.

 

Methodology

In identifying the changing demands on editorial leadership we draw upon empirical support from three surveys: Managing Editors 2010 and the Swedish Editor-in-Chief Survey 2005 and 2011. These surveys were conducted in 2005, 2010, and 2011 at the Department of Journalism, Media, and Communication at the University of Gothenburg (JMG). Our analysis is based on a mixed methods approach, as these studies comprise both interviews and quantitative data.

Managing Editors 2010 focused on all editors-in-chief practicing at Swedish evening tabloids, metropolitan dailies, and local morning papers with a publishing frequency of 5-7 days a week. During the fall of 2010, an online survey was sent to a total sample of 70 editorial leaders. Forty-one replied to the questionnaire, providing a net response rate of 59%. The survey consisted of questions measured by intensity scales as well as an open-ended question, and it is the latter that will be accounted for in the analysis. The open-ended question asked respondents to freely give their view on how their role as editorial leaders had changed compared to a decade ago. These responses were analyzed by thematic analysis of two dimensions: first, which kinds of new demands editorial leaders perceived to have been increased in their role; and second, how the increased demands on profitability and managerial professionalism were perceived to have affected their work at the news organization. Some of these responses will be quoted in the analysis in order to highlight the main findings.

The second and third studies accounted for, Swedish Editors-in-Chief Survey 2005 and 2011, were performed in the fall of 2005 and the fall of 2011, respectively. These surveys focused on all editors-in-chief working at daily newspapers, television centers, and radio stations in Sweden. However, only responses from editors-in-chief at daily newspapers will be accounted for in this study. In 2005, a total sample of 102 newspaper editors-in-chief received a postal survey and 71 replied to the questionnaire, providing a response rate of 70%. In 2011, the total sample consisted of 87 newspaper editorial leaders and 58 replied, providing a response rate of 67%. The group of editors-in-chief that responded to the survey were representative of the population in terms of critical factors such as gender, age, and workplace (Andersson, 2012). The questionnaires of Swedish Editors-in-Chief Survey 2005 and 2011 contained questions about a wide range of topics such as age, class, education, working conditions, professional values, and journalistic norms. In our analysis we deal with two questions that relate to the issue of journalism and management. First, how are specific driving forces perceived to have changed in journalistic work over the past 5-10 years? This question was included in the 2011 survey. Second, how do editorial leaders perceive that their influence over the daily work at the news desk has changed in relation to other influential actors? This question was included in 2005 as well as in 2011. Both questions were measured by intensity scales. The exact wording of the questions and the given response set are presented in connection with the tables below. Measurements used to analyze the empirical data are based on percentages, balance measures, and Kendall-s Tau-c. Kendall-s Tau rank correlation coefficient is a non-parametric test that measures the association between two variables. The coefficient varies between -1 to +1, where -1 equals a perfect negative correlation (i.e., high values on variable X correspond to low values on variable Y), and +1 equals a perfect positive correlation (i.e., high values on variable X correspond to high values on variable Y).

 

Perceived role changes among Swedish editors-in-chief

There is no doubt that the editorial leadership in Swedish newspaper organizations has gone through some substantial transformation over the past decades: a change that goes hand-in-hand with an increasing focus on business matters and market orientation of the news industry as such. Former barriers between different departments in the media organization are clearly blurred as editors-in-chief increasingly treat business matters along with editorial matters and, thus, consequently pull the editorial department into an increased market orientation (cf. Sylvie & Huang, 2005; Gade 2004). This convergence of departments is more than just a practical matter; rather, it is followed by a discursive movement sweeping through different levels of the organization.

This transformation has come to change editorial leadership in profound ways. Collecting the respondents' answers to the open-ended question-how they perceive their role to have changed during the past ten years-we obtain a number of indications on what makes newspaper leadership different today and what kind of challenges actually force these changes. One first conclusion that can be drawn from the answers is that the precondition for editorial leadership is changing at a much faster rate today compared to a couple of decades ago. As one editor-in-chief puts it:

It happens more in one year for me than it did for my predecessors 20 years ago. The pace of work has increased. . . . And the duties included in one-s work have increased. In addition to the common editorial work, much time is spent on development of new media, human resources, business issues, strategic questions . . . It is a complex task that requires a split vision.

(Managing Editors 2010 Survey)

Furthermore, the requirements for professional leadership have increased. The responding editors-in-chief now sense higher demands for participation in budgetary and evaluation work, as well as increasing claims from the marketing and sales department to be allowed access to meetings. Such demands clearly affect the editorial leadership by forcing editors-in-chief to act in accordance with managerial and professional standards:

There are higher demands for professionalism. You can't get away with being a mediocre manager with diffuse engagement, or rest on the fact that you once were a good reporter. It is absolutely essential to have economic competence and interest, in order to balance directors and economists.

(Managing Editors 2010 Survey)

This situation is further highlighted by the perceived need for better structuring and planning of editorial work. Those demands can often be derived from the expectations of other actors on managers to act more professionally, but there is also a growing notion within the guild of leaders that such a development is crucial for the success of their organizations.

All in all, the statements of the editors-in-chief depict an increasingly business-like organizational environment in which management strives to apply thought-out strategies, as far as possible avoiding ad-hoc decision-making. The explicit call for enhanced managerial skills among editorial leaders also reveals an ideological view upon management that is much more pronounced today compared to earlier decades. By tradition, editors-in-chief have mainly been recruited from the editorial staff and, thus, have a journalistic background (Andersson, 2012). This has meant that they usually do not regard themselves as separate from the publishing side of the organization: a situation that is still valid in the early 2010s. But despite having their roots in journalism, those key players express a new kind of value in relation to the values-system of professional journalism: providing a news product that is characterized by high standards is yet the upmost important goal for editorial leaders. The road to get there, however, has by some means changed, as profitability, satisfying audience needs, and a firmer editorial grip have become more vital to the editors-in-chief. In fact, most editorial leaders argued these factors to be main keys in the process of maintaining high standards in news work. One of the respondents describes the situation by using the following words:

Over the past years it has become much more evident that an editor-in-chief must prioritize economy and profitability since these are the only factors that, in the long run, can fully provide journalism excellence.

(Managing Editors 2010 Survey)

The editor-in-chief quoted above clearly expresses an opinion that professionalized leadership indeed would benefit news work, a perception that is embraced by most of the respondents. As another leader says:

My opinion is that control and standardization with the audience in mind enhances journalistic excellence, creativity and accuracy. People working within distinct frames are more useful to mankind than people just working to satisfying their own needs.

(Managing Editors 2010 Survey)

Stronger emphasis on commercial values, such as audience orientation and entertainment, further distinguish the new demands on editorial leadership (cf. Wiik, 2010; Andersson, 2009). As shown in the quotes above, such a development appears to be very much desired by most editors-in-chief.

 

Toward a stronger management culture

The changing role of editorial leaders further comes into sight when analyzing how central driving forces in journalism practice are perceived to have changed within the past 5-10 years. Those driving forces are linked here to journalistic and to business perspectives, and the table below shows the overall relationship between those two different incentives. The editors-in-chief clearly perceive managerial and business incentives to have become increasingly urgent during the past decade (see Table 1). Given the general changes that have marked news media over the past decades, these perceptions are not too surprising. What may be somewhat more unexpected, though, is that editorial leaders also find that the journalistic and professional driving forces to have strengthened during this period. Although both incentives are perceived to have gained strength lately, there is, however, a clear gap in how much these driving forces have actually increased.

 

 

This situation is further clarified when the editors-in-chief are asked about perceived changes in the kind of influence different actors have on the editorial content in an average day at the news desk. Although recent studies have shown that professional journalists often express the feeling of lost power over news production (Andersson & Wiik, 2013; Stromback & Karlsson, 2011), the editorial leaders clearly emphasize the influence from individual journalists in everyday news work (see Table 2). When responding to this question, the editors-in-chief were offered a fixed response set of a five-degree scale, ranging from very large influence to no influence at all. The table below accounts for the share of editors-in-chief who perceive the influence to be very large and rather large. Comparison between the perceptions of editors-in-chief in 2005 and 2011 clearly reveals a decrease in strength in the perceived impact of individual journalists as the number of editors-in-chief who perceive this group to have a large influence has shrunk from 52% to 33%. Yet, when summarizing the categories very large influence and rather large influence, the group of journalists is still believed to be highly influential in the newsroom according to editorial managers.

 

 

The increased focus on management can be seen in the change of how much influence the editorial leaders tend to ascribe to the role of management. Compared to the situation in 2005, the editorial board has clearly caught up with the group of individual journalists when it comes to having a very large impact on the daily editorial content: in 2005, about 48% of the editorial leaders agreed that the editorial board had a very large influence on the news content compared to 62% in 2011.

It is perhaps surprising to find that there are only small changes in the perceived impact from the corporate board and the marketing department from 2005 to 2011. Such a change would certainly be in line with the common developments in the media business as well as the perceived demands of increased audience orientation and financial skills that have been expressed by the previously quoted editors. One reason why this shift in focus does not appear here could be that the impact from these actors had actually increased before 2005, and therefore does not show in our study. Another reason may be that the increased influence from such actors is channelled through the editors-in-chief as they, on a more or less optional basis, have come to embrace the foundation of business and management.

When allowed to express themselves freely, the responding editors of the Managing Editors 2010 Survey further describe their own role as guardians of publicist ideals in struggles with, for instance, advertising departments. Common for most editors-in-chief is the perception that increased market orientation and stronger emphasis on economy, efficiency, and effectiveness has led to strengthened journalistic integrity and increased quality. By embracing financial gains and market orientation, editorial leaders argue that journalism may remain free from restraining influence from the marketing and advertising departments and consequently be allowed some freedom of action. As one editor-in-chief expresses it:

Local newspapers and their editorial boards must realize the importance of financial growth and new revenues for financing an independent journalism. Journalism is indispensable for a free and democratic society. But it is also threatened unless the newspapers further develop their businesses and get more supporting grounds to stand on.

(Managing Editors 2010 Survey)

This perception is further developed by another leader who argues that editorial managers "with a firm grip of economics, for instance, stand stronger when it comes to publicist integrity." He continues his argument by stating that there is "a movement towards increasing consensus between editorial and other departments on what should be important; namely, the publicist integrity" and concludes that this in fact is what gives local newspapers their strong position in the advertising market. To managers, professional journalism is clearly a main capital and a resource to the organization.

 

Conclusion

Focusing on the perceptions of the editors-in-chief of Swedish newspapers and what changes they experience in their professional role allowed us to analyze the negotiation of editorial leadership in the newsrooms. Our basic assumption was that managerial ideology and commercialism would exert increasing influence on leaders, perhaps at the cost of the common public interest ideals of journalism, thus streamlining editorial leadership in a way common to globalized businesses in general. Indeed, editors-in-chief find their role to be more professionalized today than before, emphasizing values such as standardization, economy, and evaluation. However, it is important to note that by "professionalized leadership" the editors-in-chief usually refer to the professionalization of economic and managerial skills, not professionalization of the typical journalistic skills or people skills of working with the creative employees.

By combining the sometimes contrasting ideals of public interest and commercialism, Swedish editors-in-chief indicate a return to an original state where commercial and editorial goals for news publishing were initially naturally entwined (cf. Djerf & Weibull, 2011). By stressing the need for economic and organizational competence, and also emphasizing their own possession of these abilities, chief editors clearly strengthen their position both in relation to managers in other businesses and in relation to the employees. In all, the study shows a clear move toward a stronger management culture in Swedish news organizations. Although this empowerment in editorial leadership is perceived beneficial to the roles of editors-in-chief as well as to the news product itself, there are certain implications that need to be considered in relation to this development.

This empowering of management has consequences not only for the editors-in-chief but also for the journalists at the news organization: in their daily work, media practitioners repeatedly have to deal with encounters between managerial ideology and professional journalism. Even if these forces sometimes are separated theoretically (e.g., Croteau & Hoynes, 2009; Hamilton, 2006; McManus, 1994), in practice they work together as a result of negotiation and compromise. Our main concern is that by focusing skills tied to managerial ideology, there is a risk of editorial leaders forgetting to develop skills tied to the human capital of the news organization (i.e., the journalists). Owing to the convergent nature of the media industry, managers must not focus too one-sidedly on negotiating rationalizations and financial gains with the demands on high quality journalism: they must also acquire knowledge and skills about how to create bridges between such business demands, new technology and platforms, audience demands, and their creative workers. This is especially important when considering the large impact editorial leaders ascribed the management in the newsroom.

Previous research has shown that journalists tend to be more satisfied with their jobs if they feel their employers prize publishing values above economic values (Beam, 2006; Stamm & Underwood, 1993). Our study has shown a certain closing between those two grounds, and there is a risk that such change may lead to renegotiations perceived as restraining or eroding to the professional work of journalists. Autonomy, altruism, and self-regulation are often described as three of the keystones of professional journalism (Brante, 1989; Ritzer, 1972; Wilensky, 1964), and these foundations are undoubetly challenged by demands for commercialism and adaptation: a situation not seldomly described as a loss of professional freedom (Nygren & Degtereva, 2012; Nygren & Witschge, 2009). As managerial ideology constitutes a powerful influence on news organizations, like it does on society as a whole, we accordingly argue that editorial leaders must increase their awareness of how the gradual transformation of their own role is affecting work at the news desk. From a managerial view, quality is tightly connected to profitability and satisfying audience needs, as has been showed by the quoted editors above, while quality, according to journalistic standards, connects to autonomy and self-regulation (cf. Andersson & Wiik, 2013). Focusing on bridging this gap may not only help journalists to reclaim some of the perceived loss of autonomy, but also clarify and improve the boundaries and conditions for editorial management, an outcome that must be considered a win-win situation for the news organization as such.

 

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