Topic teams in the newsroom: a qualitative inquiry into how they work (or don't) Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Thornton, Leslie-Jean
    • Affiliation: Hussman School of Journalism and Media
  • Newspaper newsrooms in the 1990s, hard-hit by financial pressures and steady declines in circulation, sought ways to be more efficient and attract more readers. One result was the creation of topic teams: groups of journalists assigned to produce reports on topics deemed to be of interest to targeted readers. As newspapers reorganized to enable such teams, newsrooms became more participatory and less authoritarian, altering decades of journalistic routines, culture, and job descriptions. Although the first experimenters were greeted with jeers and suspicion, topic-team newsrooms were widespread by the turn of the century. This study is the first to contextualize the adoption of topic teams in the United States in terms of history and journalistic experience. In-depth interviews with topic-team journalists yielded insights into management, professional values, newsroom practices, and the interaction of all three. Within a continuum, three types of teams emerged: negative, cohesive, and synergistic. Negative teams, which were the least functional, were associated with the highest degree of management control and the lowest degree of reward for the team member. Synergistic teams offered the highest reward with the least degree of management control. Cohesive teams were moderate in both regards. Management risk appeared greatest at both extremes. A model of topic team instrumentality, using these findings, is proposed.
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  • In Copyright
  • Curtin, Patricia A.
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Open access

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