“Just Copy And Paste”: Second-Class Journalists?

August 5, 2014 • Specialist Journalism • by

”What we do is not actually journalism” is the catchy title of a study into how online journalists in Slovenia and Serbia perceive their work and their professional role within the newsroom.

The study’s title – a quote by an online journalist working at the Slovenian daily Delo  – shows the dilemma faced by online journalists. Their main task consists of shoveling in-house print content online, reassembling press agency news or simply copying them, and translating foreign media news. Due to time pressure they only seldom produce original content. For this reason they do not regard themselves as “true journalists”.

However their answers suggest that they provide “fast news” and “credible information” and also see themselves as timely impartial mediators of social reality.

For their study Igor Vobič (University of Ljubljana) and Ana Milojević (University of Belgrade) conducted in-depth interviews with five (out of ten) online journalists from the Slovenian Delo and four (out of nine) online journalists from the Serbian Novosti. All interview partners were under 35 years at the time of the survey in 2011.

Delo as well as Novosti were established in the 1950s and were “societally owned” until the fall of socialism, then they were privatized. Both newspapers started their news websites in the late 1990s. In the 2000s, they set up online departments, which were separated from the print department in terms of space and staff. Two years before the survey by the media researchers the managements of Delo and Novosti started to rethink the role of their online journalists and online news and to integrate the print and online newsrooms. At the time of the interviews the print and online journalists at Delo were already working in a common newsroom, at Novosti they were trying to integrate the print and online processes and content without a common newsroom.

The interviewed online journalists from both newspapers complain that they are not “not regarded as equal” by their print colleagues. An online journalist from Delo says: “Some print journalists are arrogant. They regard us as a bunch of students. It is constantly implied that ‘old-school’ print journalism is the real thing. Nothing will change until online journalists become older“.

If at all, cooperation between print and online only takes place in the morning and afternoon editorial meetings; ad-hoc arrangements are rare. There is also a big difference in the employment status: Most of the interviewed online journalists are engaged in short-term contractual, casual, temporary and freelance work. Most of their print colleagues have a permanent contract, with paid sick leave better career development.

Both at Delo and at Novosti the online journalists feel “underestimated” by their print colleagues. An online journalist from Novosti said: “It seems that print journalists do not understand or do not want to understand that speed is essential online. The mindset is ‘let’s take it easy’ “.

The quick pace of work is however also one of the main problems of the online journalists. They emphasize that they do not have time for one of the most fundamental principles of journalism: to verify information. They rather rely on the accurateness of their colleagues who are their primary source of information.

On the one hand the online journalists from Delo and Novosti are of the opinion that they don’t do “true journalism” and regard themselves as “recyclers”, “robots” and “copy-pasters”. On the other hand however they call attention to the importance of online news in the process of opinion making and political participation. “With the news we provide, people can act not just like a flock of sheep, and they cannot be manipulated easily. They can make better decisions”, says a Delo online journalist.

However they hardly ever write critical articles, they are far away from taking a role as a watchdog. The answers from the Slovenian journalists however suggest that they absolutely would be able to “reveal stuff” and “control the powerful” if they had more time and the financial incentive.

A Serbian online journalist acknowledges, “journalism is pure economy. We hunt for clicks by following what is out there online and what might get our readers’ attention. Maybe I was naive, but I pictured journalism differently”.

Vobič, Igor; Milojević, Ana (2013): „What we do is not actually journalism“: Role negotiations in online departments of two newspapers in Slovenia and Serbia. In: Journalism, published online 10 December 2013

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