Satisfaction of Australian newspaper journalists during organizational change.

Author:Massey, Brian L.
Position:Report
 
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ABSTRACT

This article reports a secondary analysis of survey data on the attitudes of Australian newspaper journalists during organizational change. Over a two-year period, they kept marginally positive attitudes toward a corporate program aimed at reversing circulation declines by changing journalistic values and routines. The data show positive impacts on overall job satisfaction and performance, but mostly for reporters and photographers. Support slipped somewhat for the program itself, mostly among sub-editors and newsroom managers. Contrary to some of the literature, this study shows that journalists do not always resist organizational change.

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Scholars have poured a great deal of energy into the question of how satisfied journalists are with their jobs. (1) A common thread running through this body of work is the normative assumption that job satisfaction affects job performance. Happy newsworkers do better work, to put it simply. They are presumed to be more efficient and productive, and more committed to their employers. Clearly this is a universal concept: it would apply to any employee in any profession or trade. Still, job satisfaction stands a greater chance of helping or harming enterprises such as the news media, "where product quality is largely dependent on the individual talents and motivations of key personnel" (Daniels and Hollifield 2002). It is worth worrying about product quality. It is the key to the enterprise's journalistic and commercial success.

Much of the scholarship on job satisfaction focuses on how journalists feel about their everyday work and workplace climates. It has been generally less common to probe their satisfaction during times of planned organizational change. During change, uncertainty about new work routines and expectations can run high. That runs the risk of dampening the morale and, in turn, performance of workers who implement the change. Relatively strong job satisfaction by itself will not ensure the success of the change initiative. But it surely would help move it toward that. Dwindling satisfaction by itself may not doom the change. But it surely would make it harder to achieve.

In this article, we take the fairly less traveled path by investigating job satisfaction during a time of planned change. We do that work within a larger gap in the literature. Most job-satisfaction studies focus on U.S. journalists. Our focus, however, is on Australia and judging by the popular research-abstract databases, few studies have systematically tested the job satisfaction of its journalists.

Specifically, this is a secondary analysis of data from two surveys of journalists conducted for APN News & Media on its "Readers First" program. APN implemented the program in 2004 across its 14 regional dailies in Australia to turnaround their declining circulations. These data offer a limited longitudinal assessment of how satisfied APN journalists felt toward "Readers First," and the effect they believed it had on their newsrooms and job performances.

RESEARCH OF JOURNALISTS' JOB SATISFACTION

Defining the construct

Pollard (1995) notes that when researchers ask journalists about job satisfaction, they typically do that with a one-off, Likert-scale survey question. Weaver, Beam, Brownlee, Voakes, & Wilhoit (2007: 264) put it this way in their 2002 nationwide survey of U.S. journalists: "All things considered, how satisfied are you with your present job?" Many job-satisfaction studies have adopted that question or used a similarly phrased one. However, there is more to it than a broad liking of the job overall.

Demers (1995: 93) defines job satisfaction as "a psychological condition that exists when an individual's wants, wishes or desires are fulfilled". That frames it as a phenomenon that cannot be observed or measured directly. Instead, it comes about indirectly. It exists as the outcome of the worker's judgment of whether or how much the job imparts a sense of fulfillment. Coming to that judgment involves the worker in a mental "synthesis of the social and work-related attributes, values, attitudes, experiences, and perceptions that determine the meaning of and motivation for work" (Pollard 1995: 682).

In short, job satisfaction is a multidimensional construct. It appears as the direction of the worker's affective response toward the job broadly and toward specific aspects of it, including the workplace climate. Think of it this way: If a job was broken down into its constituent elements of work and workplace, what would they be? What is the worker's affective orientation toward each? Moreover, which elements could be reliably grouped together to make for a multidimensional test of satisfaction?

Elements of job satisfaction

In the United States, Johnstone, Slawski, & Bowman (1976), Weaver and Wilhoit (1991, 1996), and Weaver et al. (2007) have tracked the job satisfaction of journalists at 10-year intervals, starting in the early 1970s. Their national samples include newspaper, magazine, radio, TV and wire service journalists, and of late, online journalists. The latest installment of the survey was conducted in 2002 by Weaver and colleagues. It found that nearly 84% of the surveyed journalists felt "very" or "somewhat" satisfied with the overall nature of their jobs.

When they looked behind that broad view, Weaver et al. (2007) identified 10 organizational, workplace and personal factors as the best predictors of overall job satisfaction (p. 113). Two of them--"perceived autonomy" and "perceived newsroom influence"--stood out the most, statistically (p. 108). Here is the plain-language equation. Journalists who said they had control over their own work (autonomy) or a voice in how their organizations covered the news (influence) also tended to say they were satisfied with their jobs. In the reverse, the least satisfied journalists also tended to report the least autonomy and influence.

Job satisfaction also trended upward among those journalists who told Weaver et al. (2007) that they got frequent--and, presumably, positive--comments from supervisors. It tracked with perceptions of product quality, too. Journalists who felt their news outlets did a good job of informing the public or were doing better at doing good journalism also reported higher levels of job satisfaction. And journalists who believed their organizations cared about keeping employees' morale high also tended to say their jobs satisfied them.

Apart from those factors, Weaver et al. (2007) also found an association between job satisfaction and a perceived emphasis on the business side of journalism. Low satisfaction tended to accompany the belief that news-outlet managers cared more about profits than quality journalism. It tended to drop, too, in tandem with the belief that news outlets had cut back on the resources needed to do good journalism.

The Weaver et al. (2007) findings, along with those from earlier surveys in the series, are widely accepted as benchmarks. In one way or another, they have been the catalyst for other job-satisfaction studies. And to one degree or another, similar job-satisfaction dynamics have appeared in smaller samples of U.S. newsworkers (Becker, Sobowale and Cobbey 1979; Bergen and Weaver 1988; Pease 2000). So, too, has it been among studies that looked specifically at U.S. TV journalists (Powers 1991; Price 2003) and newspaper editors, copy editors and reporters (Cook and Banks 1993; Cook, Banks and Turner 1993; Demers 1993, 1994, 1995; Keith 2004, 2005; Russo 1998; Tharp 1991). Few job-satisfaction differences have been found between the general population of U.S. journalists, and samples of journalists of color (Bramlett-Solomon 1992; Rivas-Rodriguez 2004) and female journalists (Barrett 1984; Ogan and Weaver 1978/79; Price and Wulff 2005).

Outside of the U.S., Pollard (1994, 1995) concluded from his studies of Canadian journalists that matters of professionalism and "decision participation" (p. 688) pushed satisfaction higher or lower. He used "professionalism" as a construct for the match or mismatch Canadian journalists perceived between journalism's norms, values and ideals, and their workplace environments. He related "decision participation" to autonomy. Pollard's respondents were happy with their jobs when they saw a close professionalism match and felt they had control over their work. And that parallels the job-satisfaction dynamics found for U.S. newsworkers.

On Fiji and in Papua New Guinea, Robie (2005) found that low pay--a natural job-satisfaction depressant--led many journalists to consider quitting the profession. In Shanghai, Chan, Zhongdang & Lee (2004) found that Chinese journalists value work autonomy as much as their counterparts in the West do. Indeed, the higher the value they put on autonomy, the higher their job satisfaction, on average. That held up across the four job-satisfaction dimensions the researchers measured. The "overall satisfaction" of the Shanghai journalists was one dimension. The others were the "material benefits" (e.g., salary) and "intrinsic attributes" (e.g., a sense of achievement) of their jobs, and their "work relations" with coworkers and supervisors.

The Chan, Zhongdang & Lee (2004) study is among those few to look at journalists' job satisfaction during times of change. That change, however, was at the national level. It was the communist government's efforts to commercialize China's formerly state-subsidized media sector. Most of the other studies in this sub-field of satisfaction research look at instances of specific organizational change.

Satisfaction during organizational change

Studies of organizational change initiatives suggest that when journalists believe change depresses product quality, they feel less satisfied about their jobs. It often is a matter of how management manages...

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