Times of Turmoil: Short- and Long-Term Effects of Organizational Change on Newsroom Employees

Article excerpt

A period of major transformation is forcing news organizations to adapt and change. This study provides a longitudinal analysis of the effects of organizational changes and change-management efforts at CNN Headline News on newsroom employees' attitudes, morale, and likelihood of quitting their jobs. The study found that for newsroom managers, organizational change was a losing proposition, resulting in staff members' perception of greater unhappiness with their jobs. Newsroom employees were most negative about changes they thought hindered their ability to produce high-quality journalism, and change-management efforts had only limited impact on job satisfaction and commitment.

During the past two decades, change has become one of the few constants in the working environment of media organizations.1 Industry consolidation and resulting shifts in organizational goals, personnel, and work processes; continuing emergence of new production and distribution technologies; and increased competition for audience in fragmenting media markets have demanded that media organizations and professionals adjust to rapidly changing conditions.

Organizational and management scholars have argued that change will be a necessary condition for business organizations across all industries in the twenty-first century.2 Marketplace success will require businesses to scan the environment and rapidly change organizational goals and work processes in response to new opportunities and threats.3

But while change is seen as critical to businesses' competitive success, relatively little research has been done on its effects on employees. Those effects could be particularly important in media organizations, where product quality is largely dependent on the individual talents and motivation of key personnel. The research that has been done shows that employees tend to resist and fear change,4 and that managers need to be more skilled in managing employees during periods of change.5

Media professionals are accustomed to working under variable and unpredictable conditions. Journalists, in particular, must respond daily to unexpected events. Indeed, change and variety are the job characteristics most responsible for attracting people to the profession. Ninety percent of respondents in 1998 and 1999 surveys of journalism and mass communication graduates said that having a job that offered change and variety was "very important" or "important" in their decision to go into the field.6

Because of the nonroutine nature of their work, newsroom employees might be expected to adjust fairly readily to changes in the work environment. However, there have been few tests of this assumption. Given the accelerating pace of change in media organizations, it will be increasingly important for managers of news organizations to understand the effects that organizational changes have on newsroom professionals.

This study examines short- and long-term effects of a 1998 series of changes in the CNN Headline News organization on Headline News personnel. The changes involved personnel, technology, work schedules, work processes, and news format.7 The study, conducted across fifteen months, examined newsroom employees' responses to the specific changes, and their overall effects on job satisfaction, attitude towards management, and commitment to the job.

Literature Review

Management scholars8 have observed that the changing structure of the global economy is requiring organizations to adapt constantly. Cognitive psychologists have found that people are significantly affected by instability in their environments, tend to fear the unknown, and strive to maintain the status quo. Humans depend upon habits to maximize their physical and mental energy and accomplish tasks efficiently.9 Organizational change has been shown to reduce employees' job satisfaction and organizational commitment, and to increase their likelihood to quit. …