Organizational vs. Professional Culture in the Newsroom: Television News Directors' and Newspaper Editors' Hiring Decisions

By Hollifield, C. Ann; Kosicki, Gerald M. et al. | Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Organizational vs. Professional Culture in the Newsroom: Television News Directors' and Newspaper Editors' Hiring Decisions


Hollifield, C. Ann, Kosicki, Gerald M., Becker, Lee B., Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media


The last 20 years have been a period of rapid and profound change for the U.S. news media. Deregulation and new technology have tremendously increased the level of competition in the media marketplace, fragmenting audiences and leaving media outlets to battle for decreasing audience share.

News media organizations have been hard hit by the increased competition. The number of hours of national and local news programs and newsmagazines have increased sharply in recent years, and ratings for network news viewership have dropped (McClellan, 1997). Although specific ratings trend data are not available for local news viewing, scholars have found that audiences for local news significantly overlap those for national news, suggesting that local news programs are also likely to be feeling ratings pressure.(1) In the newspaper arena, the average weekday readership for newspapers dropped from 79.9% to 54.9% of the adult population between 1964 and 1997 (Newspaper Association of America, 1999). Ratings and readership declines appeared to be an effect of both the larger number of media organizations offering news, and the greater competition from other types of content that offer audiences the option of turning away from news altogether.

In the face of this, news executives find it harder to attract an audience for local news products. To succeed, they must attract the largest possible audience by differentiating their news products from their competitors' offerings. At the same time, however, they also must produce a newscast or newspaper that meets the expectations of the news consumer, which requires some level of adherence to the standards of news judgment, behavior and reporting that traditionally guide journalistic practice.

Management scholars identify such internal tensions about priorities--emphasis on product differentiation for competitive purposes vs. emphasis on professional standards and practices--as a function of the differences between coexisting organizational and professional cultures. Research has shown that organizational and professional cultures fundamentally shape daily decisions in organizations. The degree to which one set of values within a specific organization or industry--such as competitive success--dominates another--public service or quality reporting-represents the degree to which one type of culture is dominating the other within that organization or industry sector.

Industrial sociologists maintain that all organizations have an inherent culture that encompasses the organization's values, goals, and production processes, and its expectations about the roles and contributions of organizational members. As new employees join an organization, established members socialize the newcomer to accept the organization's values. However, as Etzioni (1961) noted, "If the organization can recruit participants who have the characteristics it requires, it does not have to develop these characteristics through training and education" (p. 158).

Media critics such as Bagdikian (1992) and Underwood (1993) have argued that over the past two decades, news executives increasingly have bowed to the pressures of organizational culture, sacrificing quality reporting and the traditional values of the journalism profession to the demands of competition and the need to boost ratings and readership. Although recognition of the conflicting pressures on media managers has been widespread among media scholars, few studies have examined the comparative importance of the organizational culture of the media organization and whether the professional culture of journalism is shaping key decisions by newsroom managers.

This study addresses that question by examining the organizational and professional attributes television news directors and newspaper editors seek in new employees. Newsroom hiring decisions were selected as the study's focus because news is an information product (Braman, 1989) and, therefore, both the journalistic quality of the final product and the ability of the news organization to differentiate its product from those of its competitors are, at least in part, dependent on the organization's employees and their unique creative abilities, skills and talents.

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