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Meritocracy in the Modern Newsroom

Newsrooms are businesses. That’s no secret. Just like any other corporation that is looking to earn a healthy profit, newspapers and other media organizations have a series of checks in place to help objectively judge how efficient employees (i.e., newsroom personnel) are at doing their jobs and what their return on investment is.

Unfortunately, that means that many journalists are subject to the dreaded yearly review. Some organizations have mid-year or even quarterly reviews to deal with, as well. These are multi-step processes whereas a journalist extends a series of goals for the year (usually tied to developmental plans and organizational goals), a supervisor approves or rejects them (and usually adds some of their own) and then the employee gets reviewed based on that criteria at the end of the year.

The problem is that these mechanisms are inherently bad for producing quality journalism. The goals require an objective way of knowing if the employee did their jobs well, meaning the goals have to be numbers based. That means that the emphasis is on how much we produce, not how well we produce the content we create.

In an industry that many people entered as a kind of higher calling (certainly not for the money), these kinds of reviews are already irrelevant. In a time when our industry is encountering forced furloughs, pay cuts, layoffs and hiring freezes, it’s a downright insult. Goals are essentially meaningless – most news organizations aren’t giving merit pay raises anymore, so what’s the point of a glowing review? Not to mention that the goals listed on reviews never come into play when it comes to layoffs anyhow – layoffs are usually a combination of salary, position, redundancy and what the boss thinks we can do without.

Can someone defend yearly goals for newsroom employees to me? Particularly goals that are cascaded – i.e., as an online journalist, I was judged based on if the physical newspaper got out on time for my first three years in my current organization. Tell me why you think goals and reviews make sense in a news organization.

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Categories: journalism industry
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