A baseline study of prevalence,
organization and effectiveness
Fred F. Endres
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
Kent State University
Kent, OH 44242
Fax (330) 672-4064
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Ann B. Schierhorn
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
Kent State University
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
Kent State University
Presented to AEJMC Newspaper Division
annual convention in New Orleans, La.
August 4, 1999
This research was funded by a grant from the Freedom Forum. The authors thank
David Barwick, graduate assistant in the School of Journalism and Mass
Communication at Kent, for his help on this project.
A baseline study of prevalence,
organization and effectiveness
Presented to AEJMC Newspaper Division
annual convention in New Orleans, La.
August 4, 1999
This research project was funded by a grant from the Freedom Forum. The authors
thank David Barwick, graduate assistant, for his help.
A baseline study of prevalence,
organization and effectiveness
Although the concept of teamwork as an organizational model has been promoted
in the business world for the past 25 years, only recently have some newsrooms
begun to adopt the team model. This baseline study of U.S. newspaper managing
editors found that 37 percent reported they had a full or partial permanent team
system in place. Most of those teams were organized by news topic or as an ad
hoc group of reporters, editors and designers who planned and executed specific
stories or packages. Editors who had a team structure expressed satisfaction
with the effectiveness of the structure compared to a traditional beat
A baseline study of prevalence, organization and effectiveness
The concept of teamwork in the work place has permeated business literature for
25 years, but the concept of a newsroom organized around teams only recently has
been accepted on some newspapers. This descriptive study seeks to determine,
among other things, the prevalence of teams on newspapers, how they are
operating and how their effectiveness is measured.
Teams, described in business literature as self-directed work teams,
self-managing teams and cross-functional teams, are small groups of employees
responsible for turning out a finished product or service. The team members, who
possess a variety of skills, share responsibility for the finished work.
In his classic work, Management, published 25 years ago, Peter Drucker
predicted the team would become a permanent structural design in business. He
contrasted the team model, in which workers with different skills and tools
collaborate to complete a job, with two other organizational models for work, in
which 1) work moves where the skills and tools are, such as on a factory
assembly line, or 2) work is done sequentially in one place, such as building a
By 1993, influential management consultants Michael Hammer and James Champy
were promoting the team as a new business model that represented a departure
from 200 years of organizational design. They distinguished it from Adam Smith's
principle of the division of labor, in which work is fragmented into tasks, each
one assigned to a specialist. The team model, as they described it, is
organized not around tasks, but around processes.
The team model was pioneered in Britain and Sweden in the 1950s and had
been advocated for several decades, but it became fashionable in the United
States only in the 1980s when companies, propelled by a changing economy, looked
for ways to improve performance. U.S. managers, looking to Europe and the
Far East for ways to increase productivity in the '80s, found models in
companies that used a participatory approach, including teamwork and employee
involvement. W. Edwards Deming, who consulted with Japanese firms on new
management principles to improve productivity and quality, was among those
advocating the use of teams as part of total quality management. In his 14
Points for Management, adopted now by many U.S. companies, he called for
eliminating barriers between departments so that employees in research, design,
sales and production could work as a team.
In 1987, 1990 and 1993, Edward Lawler of the University of Southern California
and researchers Susan Albers Mohrman and Gerald E. Ledford Jr. surveyed Fortune
1000 corporations on their use of participatory management techniques. Their
studies showed that most of the corporations responding reported they chose a
participatory management style, which includes teams, in response to market
pressures, particularly global competition. Specifically, the firms gave as
their primary reasons "to improve productivity," "to improve quality" and "to
improve employee motivation."
The Lawler study showed 70 percent of the companies surveyed in 1993 had
employees involved in self-managing work teams compared to 47 percent in 1990
and 27 percent in 1987. Most of the companies reporting the use of teams in 1993
had no more than 20 percent of their employees involved. However, 68 percent
of those companies surveyed expected to increase use of work teams in the coming
Reflecting the interest in teams by American businesses, the Harvard Business
School announced plans in 1993 to overhaul its MBA curriculum to place more
emphasis on general management skills such as teamwork and leadership. And a
columnist for The Wall Street Journal counseled readers on the need to learn to
be a team player because many companies were beginning to measure employees'
effectiveness in collaboration as well as in individual contributions.
Although the reengineering movement recently has been vilified because of
corporate downsizing, Lawler and Mohrman in 1998 suggested that the flattening
of hierarchies required for teams is likely to survive as good business
practice, along with many of the approaches of employee involvement and total
Among mass communication businesses, the importance of teamwork has long been
recognized in advertising companies. The firm of Doyle Dane Bernbach is credited
with first employing the idea of a creative team in its Volkswagen advertising
campaign of 1949-51. In that campaign, a writer, creative director, art
director and account executive teamed up to launch a successful print
advertising campaign and a creative revolution. The campaign brought the "lemon"
ads, among others, and the concept of representatives of different advertising
departments collaborating on a project.
The team concept increasingly has been advocated for newspapers. As early as
1985, Paul McMasters called for teams in the Newsroom Management Handbook
published by the American Society of Newspaper Editors Foundation. McMasters
cited the experience of The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer and News (where six
editors participated in a team-building project in 1983), but few newspapers
picked up the idea in the 1980s.
Newspaper designer Mario Garcia of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies,
which provides mid-career training for professionals, has promoted what he calls
the "WED" concept, the marriage of writing, editing and design. As he describes
his philosophy, writers, editors and designers collaborate from the idea stage
on a project. This represents a break from the traditional approach, in which
designers are called in after the story is written.
In a videotape and related materials distributed by the American Society of
Newspaper Editors, Buck Ryan advocated "the maestro concept," an approach to
teams that he describes as moving newspapers from an assembly line approach (in
which designers would be given a completed story) to a system that reshapes the
relationship between reporters, assignment editors, photographers, copy editors,
designers and artists. By 1995, Carl Sessions Stepp, writing in American
Journalism Review, could cite newsrooms using a team approach at the Norfolk
Virginian-Pilot, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Portland Oregonian, Dayton Daily
News, Columbia (S.C.) State and The Orange County Register .
Although no survey comparable to Lawler's study of the Fortune 1000 has been
conducted to measure use of teamwork in the news media, the dearth of literature
in academic and trade publications on newspaper teamwork until the 1990s
suggests that newspapers have lagged behind other
industries in adopting a team approach.
However, concerns about declining circulation and competition from electronic
information delivery systems may accelerate newspapers' interest in teamwork.
Indeed, Wichita Eagle managing editor Janet Weaver, who revamped the newspaper's
newsroom hierarchy into teams in 1995, told Presstime, "I want to be part of the
group that helps keep newspaper journalism alive instead of part of the group
that let it die on their watch."
The experience of the Eagle staff is described in a report of the Editorial
Leadership Initiative operated jointly by Northwestern University's Medill
School of Journalism and J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management. That case
study relates how teams were implemented in 1995 and how the newspaper, with a
team organization in place, responded to the destruction of the Federal Building
in Oklahoma City a few months later. 
Little other scholarly literature is available on how effectively teams are
working in newsrooms, what problems are surfacing that may be peculiar to
newsrooms, and how those problems are being solved. Regina Louise Lewis, whose
1997 study found newspaper production departments lagged behind advertising
departments and newsrooms in adopting high-performance practices like teams,
says researchers must determine how to measure the effects of such
Kathleen A. Hansen, Mark Neuzil and Jean Ward studied newsroom teams at the
Minneapolis Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press by surveying journalists
on the two staffs for their assessments of teams' effects on news routines and
They determined the effects on news process and news quality were predominantly
negative. Some of the issues cited by staffers were the need for more resources,
especially copy editors and photographers; difficulty in working in teams with
colleagues who worked different shifts; newspapers instituting redesigns
simultaneously with restructuring the newsrooms; decision making becoming slower
and more complex; staffers feeling that they had less authority; and lack of
newsroom discipline. Staffers also expressed concern about accuracy, the trend
to softer news stories and the focus on design. The study is more persuasive in
showing that morale suffered when the newsroom switched to teams than it is in
showing that quality suffered. In fact, the researchers acknowledge that readers
(whom they did not survey) and staffers have differing perspectives on newspaper
In another study of newsroom teams, John T. Russial used content analysis to
study the effect of one topic team at the Portland Oregonian. The Health and
Science team was formed in 1994 to improve coverage and play of those stories.
Russial found that the use of this team at The Oregonian did increase the number
of stories on this topic overall, the number of staff-written stories and the
section-front play of stories. Because The Oregonian did not increase newshole
at the same time, Russial points out, some news was sacrificed. Russial
determined by interviewing an editor that the news left out of the newspaper as
a result of the change in news values was routine state legislature stories.
Based on anecdotal evidence, Russial also concluded that change was good for
morale at the newspaper.
The present study focuses on a different perspective from these earlier
studies--that of newspaper managing editors. In surveying these individuals,
this project apparently is the first broad, national investigation of teams on
U.S. newspapers. And, while the reliance on managing editors provides a new and
important perspective, it also limits the investigation to the perceptions of
Out of the literature and interests of the researchers, the following research
questions were developed. 1. How many papers have newsroom teams and what role
does circulation size play? 2. What was the process by which teams were
developed/implemented? 3. What are the characteristics of teams, including
composition and organization? 4. What is the governance or leadership system
within the teams? 5. What have been the effects of the move to teams? 6. How is
success of team usage measured? 7. What seem to be the strengths and weaknesses
of teams? 8. Why do papers that don't have teams say they don't use them?
The authors surveyed a census of U.S. newspapers with more than 25,000 daily
circulation. An eight-page, pre-tested, questionnaire was sent to the managing
editors of 455 newspapers listed in the 1998 Editor & Publisher Yearbook. The
questionnaire was mailed in January 1999, with a reminder and a second
questionnaire sent four weeks later. A total of 192 usable questionnaires were
returned (42.2 percent). By circulation, the returned questionnaires closely
followed circulation categories listed in E&P.
Because only one substantive question was asked of all respondents ("Do you
have newsroom teams?"), the authors were concerned with overall sample error and
degree of confidence only on that question. The return of 192 questionnaires
produced a sample error of +/- 5.1 percent at a 95 percent degree of confidence.
The papers that said they had teams, thus, became a subsample with a resultant
larger sample error.
Two related, but not methodologically synonymous, independent variables were
used in most analyses: Circulation, as described above, and Employees, a
three-tiered stratum representing the number of full-time newsroom employees.
The tiers, with distribution in percentages, were: more than 100 employees--34
percent; 51 to 100 employees--28.7 percent; and 50 or fewer employees--37.2
percent. Appropriate for a descriptive study, data were analyzed by chi square
Research Question 1: How many, what configuration. Seventy-one of the 192
responding newspapers (37 percent) said they had a formal team system in place
to one degree or another. This was significant by chi square analysis (p<.004),
with about 53 percent of the large circulation papers having teams, compared
with 42 percent of the medium size papers and 25 percent of the small papers.
Some papers were organized totally around a team structure, while others used a
combination of teams and traditional beat structures, and sometimes had two team
systems operating at once. The two most common newsroom systems involved an
on-going group of reporters focusing on specific topic areas (59 percent of
respondents) and/or an ad hoc group of reporters, editors and designers who
planned and executed specific stories or packages (58 percent). Only about a
quarter of the respondents said they used on-going teams that consisted of
reporters, editors, designers and photographers.
About eight out of 10 papers that used a team system reported having fewer than
10 teams, most five or fewer. Some 58 percent of the papers reported that half,
or less, of their full-time news staffers were involved in teams. Almost 60
percent of the papers said they had started using teams between 1993 and 1996.
The rest were pretty evenly split between starting before 1993 (earliest being
1984) and starting in 1997 or 1998.
Percentage of Teams Covering Specific Topic/Subject Areas
Topic Area % Saying Yes
General Assignment/Breaking News 40.3ab
Entertainment (Art/Books/TV/Movies/Music) 35.3
Leisure (Travel, Fashion) 25.0
Urban Development/Transportation/Construction 25.0
Geographic Area Coverage 19.1
a significant with Circulation by x2 at p < .05
b significant with Employees by x2 at p < .05
Papers were asked what subjects, or topic areas, their teams covered. As Table 1
shows, the top four were politics/government, police/courts,
investigative/projects, and education. Interestingly, there were few
statistically significant differences by Circulation or Employees, indicating
that most papers with topic teams use the same ones. Significance appeared on
three items and indicated that smaller papers were less likely to have teams in
Research Question 2: Implementation Process. The idea to switch to a team
structure originated, overwhelmingly, with local news management. In more than
83 percent of the switches, that was the case, compared to a total of less than
17 percent for group ownership, local corporate management or newsroom staffers.
And, in most instances, respondents said the switch was made to produce stories
more relevant to readers. Papers were asked to rate from "very important" to
"not at all important" eight reasons to switch. As Table 2 indicates, the only
other reasons that came close to "producing relevant stories" were using staff
more efficiently and developing more complex articles. Interestingly, there were
no statistically significant differences (by ANOVA) by Circulation or Employees,
indicating motivations behind changing systems apparently were consistent
regardless of newspaper size.
Reasons Given to Switch to Team System
(1=Very Important, 5=Not At All Important)
Reason Mean Rating
Produce Stories More Relevant to Readers 1.45
Use Staff More Efficiently 1.94
Develop More Complex Stories 2.02
Increase Paper's Circulation 2.91
Produce More Stories 3.22
Keep Up With Changing Technology 3.84
Increase Paper's Advertising 4.32
Increase Paper's Profits 4.33
Respondents were divided fairly evenly on how the change was accomplished. Some
56 percent said the team system was introduced and implemented over time, in
stages, sometimes as long as a year or more; the rest said the change in
structure took place somewhat more abruptly. Specifically, almost 60 percent of
the papers reported that the team system was implemented in less than six
months. A fourth of them said six months to a year, and the rest said longer
than a year.
Almost all papers that reported introducing teams over time said that was the
more appropriate, efficient way to do so. About 5 percent of the papers that
implemented teams all at once said that, with the luxury of 20/20 hindsight,
putting teams in place over time probably was a better idea.
The switch to teams was not accompanied by a great deal of other kinds of
change. About a quarter of the papers said the establishment of teams coincided
with other management-instituted changes, such as starting pagination or
adopting "maestro" or "WED" systems. Similarly, only 25 percent of the papers
reported that the newsroom was renovated or reconfigured to accommodate the team
If moving to a team structure did not bring about many physical changes to
newsrooms, nor did the change cause wholesale alterations in staff titles or
result in the elimination of many layers of management. Less than 10 percent of
the papers changed the title of the managing editor; slightly more than 40
percent of the papers said the title of city editor or assistant city editor was
changed, usually to something like "team leader." In addition, 63 percent of the
papers said no layers of management were eliminated/lost in the change. Some 21
percent said one layer was lost, and 15 percent said two or more layers were
More than 70 percent of the papers said their newsrooms weren't unionized, so
that wasn't a factor in the switch. Of the few papers that reported being
unionized, all said the union was helpful or played no role.
Research Question 3: Team characteristics, including composition and
organization. Respondents were given a list of newsroom employees (reporter,
copy editor, artist/designer, photographer, supervisory editor and other) and
asked to indicate which positions were represented on teams. Most often, it was
reported, teams were made up of reporters and supervisory editors. Respondents
recommended four as the minimum size and eight as the maximum size for
efficiency. The median team size reported in this study was six. Editors noted
that team members usually remained on a team for more than one year.
Forty-four percent of the papers also said staffers could be on more than one
team, but normally this was only on a temporary basis.
The editors were asked if there were certain characteristics of individuals that
seemed to make them better team members. Seventy-six percent of the editors
responding said that there were and listed characteristics that could be grouped
as the ability to work with others (41 percent of the responses), openness to
change (23 percent), a strong work ethic (20 percent), humility (11 percent) and
other responses (5 percent).
Some 32 percent of the respondents said their teams had written goals or mission
statements. They also reported that teams members relied on regularly scheduled
meetings and talking with each other to coordinate work between teams. They
relied largely on meetings to communicate with section editors and upper
In terms of training, 74 percent of the papers' staffs received a week or less
of training before teams were organized. Most of the training was in teamwork
(53 percent), leadership (39 percent) and interpersonal skills (39 percent).
Editors reported more training was needed in the same areas, with leadership
training needing the most (41 percent), followed by teamwork (39 percent) and
interpersonal skills (31 percent). Only a handful of papers used an outside
consultant to do the training.
Research Question 4: Team governance/leadership. In most cases - 68 percent - a
supervisory editor was reported to be the team leader. Table 3 lists
responsibilities of that team leader. Forty-two percent of the editors said
formal coaching was a part of the team structure, and 45 percent identified the
team leader as the coach.
Responsibilities of Team Leader
(% of Respondents Saying 'Yes')
Task Pct. 'Yes'
Assign Stories 90.8%
First Edit on Stories 89.2%
Liaison with Management 87.7%
Coach Writers 86.2%
Enforce Quality Standards 80.0%
Enforce Deadlines 78.5%
Reporting and Writing 23.4%
Design pages 12.3%
Taking Photos/Creating Graphics 7.7%
Most respondents (55 percent) said news staffers had a large amount of input on
team assignments, but, in response to open-ended questions, they also indicated
that the managing editor and city editor decided who would be on each team and
who would lead the teams. The editors were asked how they handled a staffer's
request to change teams, and they reported that they handled it like any other
request for a reassignment, e.g., wait for an opening, allow the employee to
swap jobs with another employee or have the department head decide.
The editors estimated that their teams generate, on average, 90 percent of the
story ideas they tackle. Most of the respondents (71 percent) reported that the
teams attempted to operate by consensus and if consensus couldn't be reached,
the team leader decided what to do.
Research Question 5: Effects of the move to newsroom teams. Results were
measured by a set of scaled questions on perceived attitudes, stress and
effects, along with three questions on morale. Generally, the managing editors
saw many more positives than negatives, as Table 4 shows.
On a 5-point Likert-type scale where 1=Strongly Agree and 5=Strongly Disagree,
the managing editors showed strongest agreement with the statement that top
management, i.e., themselves and their top associates, liked the team concept.
They demonstrated less agreement on statements that middle management and line
staff (reporters, copy editors, photographers) liked the system.
On statements pertaining to increased stress for city editors, reporters,
photographers, etc., and on statements about less staff autonomy and decreased
opportunities for promotion, the editors showed even more reluctance to agree.
Reactions to Teams by Mean
1=Strongly Agree 5=Strongly Disagree
Statement Mean Response
Top news management likes team concept 1.864d
Young staff like team concept 2.169
Middle management (team leaders, section editors) like team concept 2.242
Staff members (reporters, copy editors) like team concept 2.344
Stress on middle managers has increased 2.723
Stress on reporters, copy editors, photographers has increased 3.250
Many staff members miss the autonomy of traditional newsroom 3.492
Staff members see less opportunity for promotion 3.645
d ANOVA significant by Employees p<.05
On the questions about morale, no respondent said top management morale had
decreased; indeed, 28 percent said it had increased. About 40 percent said
mid-management and staff morale had increased; 13 percent said mid-management
morale had decreased. Only 3 percent said staff morale had decreased.
Research Question 6: Measuring teams' success. Respondents were asked to rate
elements as to their importance in measuring the success of teams on their
newspapers. As Table 5 shows, the
How Success of Teams is Measured
1=very important measure 5=not at all important measure
More/better coverage of topic area 1.311
The editor's opinion 2.093
Informal reader feedback 2.155
Informal staff comments 2.179
Surveys of readers 2.188
Making deadlines 2.380
Amount of stories produced 2.556
Circulation increase 2.565
Higher circulation penetration 2.810
Awards won by staff 2.911
Surveys of staff 3.300
Evaluation of MBOs 3.611
Increased profits 4.184
measures of success identified by the editors as most important were more, or
better, coverage in a given topic area, the editor's opinion and informal reader
and staff feedback. Least important was increased profits. Sixty-four percent of
the editors recommended waiting a year or more to determine the effectiveness of
Another effect of moving to a team structure -- rewarding individuals for team
successes -- seems to be a fairly widely accepted practice. More than 60 percent
of the editors said such rewards were given, usually in the shape of bonuses
and/or awards, but not raises.
Perceived Strengths and Weaknesses of Teams, in Percentages
A = More true with teams
B = About same for teams or traditional beat structure
C = More true with traditional beat structure
Statement A B C
Staff members interact more 77.7% 19.7% 3.3%
Paper is better planned 73.3 23.2 3.3
Overall, readers get a better paper 71.0 24.2 4.8
Stories better written because they're discussed before deadline 71.4 22.2
News is packaged better 64.4 32.2 3.4
Staff members are cross trained and learn new skills 56.1 42.1 1.8
Paper is better designed 55.2 41.4 3.4
Reporters write across paper, not just for one section 54.2 40.7 5.1
Stories are more authoritative 50.8 46.0 3.2
Staff members show more initiative 50.8 40.7 8.5
Communication between middle and top management better 46.6 48.3 5.2
Accuracy is better 39.0 55.9 5.1
Communication between reporters & copy editors better 32.1 64.3 3.6
We emphasize soft news too much 28.8 62.7 8.5
It takes more staff 28.8 61.0 10.2
Stories fall between the cracks 33.9 50.8 15.3
It's easier to implement changes 33.3 51.7 15.0
Copy editors more satisfied because their work is more varied 21.4 71.4 7.1
Decision making is slower 35.6 40.7 23.7
Communication between shifts is a problem 17.5 70.2 12.3
Paper is breaking more news 27.4 48.4 24.2
Reps/copy eds less likely to be disciplined for missing deadlines 10.7 80.4
Design is emphasized over content 8.6 84.5 6.9
We respond better to breaking news 29.0 41.9 29.0
The amount of copy per reporter is greater 28.8 42.4 28.2
Less competent staffers bring down overall quality of coverage 10.3 69.0 20.7
General assignment is covered adequately 19.4 48.4 32.3
Top newsroom management micromanages stories 11.9 62.7 25.4
Research Question 7: Perceived strengths and weaknesses of teams. Managing
editors thought the team system presented far more strengths than the
traditional beat-oriented newsroom. We presented them with 28 scenarios, or
newsroom situations/outcomes, and asked them if the scenarios were more likely
to occur under a team structure, in a traditional newsroom setting, or whether
it didn't make much difference. Table 6 shows the results.
Overwhelmingly, editors said the team system produced: more staff interaction, a
better planned and packaged paper, better written stories, and, overall, a
better paper for readers. They were only slightly less enthusiastic about teams
for: permitting cross training of staff; allowing reporters to write across the
paper; developing authoritative stories; and allowing staff to show more
Indeed, there were only five scenarios where the managing editors said they were
as likely, or more likely, to occur under a traditional beat-centered newsroom
system: responding to breaking news and covering general assignment; reporters
producing more copy; less competent staffers bringing down overall coverage
quality; and, top newsroom management micromanaging stories.
Among negative scenarios presented -- too much emphasis on soft news, stories
falling between the cracks, slower decision making, takes too large a staff --
respondents granted that those could happen under a team system, but most
indicated they were just as likely to occur under either system.
Research Question 8: No, Thank You. Papers that said they did not use a team
system gave four primary reasons, three seemingly closely related.
Smaller papers, especially, said their size (most less than 50,000 circulation)
was the major reason. Common themes included too few people, too large an area
to cover, and too much staff turnover.
The rest of the non-team papers' responses could be divided roughly in thirds.
There were those who like/trust/believe in the traditional beat system. They
have nothing against teams so much as they have a great deal they like about
their current structure. They are satisfied with the chain of command in place,
and they believe the beat system is effective and efficient.
At the other end of the spectrum is a group of papers that dislike the team
concept and/or structure, and they dislike it for specific reasons. Common
themes include lack of accountability, failure to adequately cover general
assignment or breaking news, lower staff production, and inefficiency in
managing staff members.
Finally, there is a group somewhere in between these two. These papers seem to
have nothing specific against teams; they just haven't given them much
consideration. Most said no one had suggested such a switch, or that they
weren't too informed about the system, or that they felt teams were a fad.
Only two papers reported having had a team structure and returning to the
traditional beat system. Both said the team system had "not worked out" for
them. And, only a relative handful of papers (11) said they planned to move to a
team system, most in the next 6-12 months.
There are eight important findings in this study.
First, while teams have been a subject of intense discussion among newspaper
professionals in the 1990s, there seems to have been no data on just how
widespread their use is. This study gives a baseline: 37 percent of newspapers
with a circulation more than 25,000 use some form of teams.
Most common are ad hoc teams for special projects and topic-oriented teams
consisting of a group of reporters and editors. About 60 percent of papers with
teams said they had each kind. (A number of papers said they had both.)
If we look at the data in a different way, about 20 percent of all newspapers
reported those kinds of teams. The data suggest that about 40 percent of
newspapers with a circulation of more than 100,000 use reporter-editor teams and
about 30 percent use ad hoc teams. Comparable numbers for smaller papers are
Second, the data does show a rapid growth in the use of teams in the 1990s. Only
8 percent of managing editors said their newspapers had started the use of teams
by 1992. Thirty-five newspapers started teams in the next three years so that by
1995, 28 percent of newspapers were using some form of teams. Thirteen more
papers said they had started teams by 1998, and 11 said they planned to start
teams within the next year. If that happens, 42 percent of newspapers would have
teams at the end of 1999.
Even though these numbers occurred a decade later than Lawler's study of
American businesses in general, they remarkably parallel the growth Lawler
found. In 1987, 27 percent of companies reported using teams; three years later,
in 1990, 47 percent of companies reported using teams. Lawler's findings showed
use of teams growing to 70 percent three years later. Whether newsrooms,
generally much smaller operations than typical American businesses, will
continue to track that growth is unclear.
Third, editors differ from corporate executives in how they rank the reasons for
going to a team structure. The primary reason given by editors is a statement
about quality, and the secondary reason is a statement about productivity.
Business executives rank productivity first and quality second. Increasing
profits was rated last in editors' thinking in creating teams. Even circulation
growth rated below quality concerns. When editors listed how they evaluated
teams, increased profits again were last, and better coverage was first.
This avoidance of the profit incentive is not completely a surprise. Newsrooms
don't directly produce revenue, and many news people have always said they
answered the calling to serve the public, not to serve the shareholder. (It is
interesting to note that the top four ways editors said they evaluated teams -
better coverage, the editor's opinion, informal reader feedback and informal
staff comments - are among the hardest to measure.)
Fourth, for the most part, papers seem to have made a somewhat cautious,
conservative switch to teams. For example, many papers that reported having
teams, also noted that they weren't fully committed to a team system in the
newsroom. Many retained elements of the traditional newsroom, producing a mixed
structure, a hybrid newsroom environment.
In addition, relatively few of the papers reported using broad, theme-based,
inter-beat approaches to coverage, opting instead for the familiarity of
traditional beat system terminology and organization. Most team "topic areas"
are interchangeable with the beat assignments in any newsroom in the country:
politics, cops, courts, education, business, sports.
And, most papers using ongoing teams reported their teams were composed of
several reporters and a city editor or assistant city editor with the new title
"Team Leader." As opposed to other segments of corporate America, few papers
reported using a standing, cross-functional form of teams where reporters, copy
editors, designers, photographers and a supervising editor work together on
stories from the time of idea conceptualization or assignment. The
cross-functional teams that focus on creative consultation and collaboration are
temporary in most newsrooms.
Fifth, the composition of teams reflects an evolutionary, not revolutionary,
adaptation of teams in newsrooms. About two-thirds of teams are headed by a
supervisory editor. The most common functions of the team leader almost
perfectly reflect the traditional functions of city editors and their
assistants: assigning stories, doing the first edit, communicating with upper
management and enforcing deadlines. However, the title of city editor may be
vanishing; about 40 percent of papers with teams have renamed that job.
Of major use to newspapers thinking about creating teams is the strong agreement
among papers on the recommended size of teams - between four and eight. (The
average found in the study was right in the middle - six.)
Sixth, the lack of numerous statistically significant differences often is
anathema to researchers. Quite the opposite is true in this study. While the
overall lack of statistical significance could be a factor of sample size,
independent variables selected, or chance, we aren't that concerned. Indeed, we
think there might be a much more telling conclusion drawn. That is, for the most
part, those papers with teams think and act very much the same, regardless of
newspaper circulation or staff size. The absence of significant differences
indicates that team-oriented papers use the same structures, the same team
subject areas, the same measures of success across circulation and personnel
levels. Generally, they agree on the team system's strengths and weaknesses and
the reasons for switching to teams.
Seventh, editors in this study had a stake in their newspapers' moving to a
team structure, Still, their reactions to teams showed a greater than expected
satisfaction with the team concept. The editors' perspective differed from that
of newspaper staffs reported by Hansen et al who found that morale suffered at
the Minneapolis Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press after a team structure
was instituted. This study indicates that the findings in Minneapolis-St. Paul
- that staffers said they believed the quality of the newspaper had declined
while production time needed had increased - are not necessarily true at
newspapers nationwide. Editors indicated they and their staffs approved of the
team concept and denied the increase in stress that was indicated by anecdotal
descriptions of team structure in Portland and other cities. These are, of
course, perceptions of editors, not responses from mid-managers, reporters or
And, finally, the editors' perceptions of strengths and weaknesses also showed
greater appreciation for teams than the literature would suggest. The statements
in Table 6 were drawn from academic and professional journal articles about
teams and from editors' comments at conferences. The results are not consistent
with the Hansen study, which found the effect on news processes and news quality
to be mixed, but predominantly negative. One concern of editors in this study,
however, that general assignment be covered adequately, was reflected in Stepp's
descriptive article on reinventing the newsroom. Overall, editors disagreed with
the criticism of teams.
Suggestions for Further Research
This study has uncovered important baseline information about the state of
"teams" on American newspapers today. Still, its limitations and the new
questions it has raised invite further research. More could be learned, for
example, about teams by replicating this survey in a few years to ascertain
future patterns of team development. Additional work also is needed in the area
of staff reaction to teams, i.e., the Hanson study needs to be expanded.
Russial's work on content analysis also could be expanded to more than one
newspaper and by looking at coverage in more than one topic area before and
after the inception of teams. Also helpful would be a survey of managing editors
with teams and managing editors in traditional newsrooms to discover
similarities and differences in the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the
two organizational structures.
Jack D. Orsburn, Linda Moran, Ed Musselwhite and John H. Zenger, Self-Directed
Work Teams: The New American Challenge. Homewood, Illinois: Business One Irwin,
1990, p. 8.
 Peter F. Drucker, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. New York:
Harper & Row, Publishers, 1974, pp. 558-564.
 Michael Hammer and James Champy, Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto
for Business Revolution. New York: HarperBusiness, 1993, pp. 35-36.
 Orsburn et al., op. cit., p. 13.
 Edward E. Lawler III, Susan Albers Mohrman and Gerald E. Ledford, Jr.,
Employee Involvement and Total Quality Management: Practices and Results in
Fortune 1000 Companies. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1992, p. 1.
 Glenn H. Varney, Building Productive Teams: An Action Guide and Resource
Book. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1989, p xiii.
 W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis. Cambridge, Mass.: Massachusetts
Institute of Technology Center for Advanced Engineering Study, 1986, pp. 23-24.
 Their survey asked about a range of practices grouped as Employee
Involvement and Total Quality Management, which the authors describe as distinct
but complementary practices. In addition to self-managing teams, the authors
include in Employee Involvement quality circles, job enrichment, gain sharing
and profit sharing systems (pay systems and power sharing programs), p. xvii.
Total Quality Management programs include such programs as self-inspection, work
simplification, cost-of-quality monitoring, direct employee exposure to
customers and collaboration with suppliers on quality efforts, p. 95.
 Lawler et al., p. xviii.
 Ibid., pp. 9-10.
 Ibid., p. 28. Lawler et al., Creating High Performance Organizations:
Practices and Results of Employee Involvement and Total Quality Management in
Fortune 1000 Companies. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1995, p. 20, 28.
 Ibid., 1995, p. 135.
 "Harvard Plans to Retool MBA Curriculum," USA Today, Nov. 9, 1993, p. 1B.
 Timothy D. Schellhardt, "To Be a Star Among Equals, Be a Team Player,"
The Wall Street Journal, April 20, 1994, p. B1.
 Susan Albers Morhman, Jay R. Galbraith, Edward E. Lawler III and
Associates, Tomorrow's Organization: Crafting Winning Capabilities in a Dynamic
World. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1998, 206-207.
 Jason Berger, "Brainstorming: We Can Teach 'Creativity,'" Teaching Public
Relations 28, September 1992, p. 2.
 Paul McMasters, 15 Management Techniques, Newsroom Management Handbook,
Washington, D.C.: American Society of Newspapers Editors Foundation, 1985, pp.
 Mario Garcia, Contemporary Newspaper Design: A Structural Approach, 3rd
ed. Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1993, p. 21.
 Buck Ryan, The Maestro Concept: A New Approach to Writing and Editing for
the Newspaper of the Future, a report prepared for the Annual Convention of the
American Society of Newspaper Editors, Baltimore, Md., March 30-April 2, 1993,
 Carl Sessions Stepp, Reinventing the Newsroom, American Journalism Review,
April 1995, pp. 28-33.
 Perhaps the delay stems from newspaper managers' perception of their
companies as local monopolies that haven't had to be competitive. This is the
explanation of one industry official for why newspapers were a decade behind
other industries in adopting other management strategies. See Gene Goltz, "Human
Resources Specialists," Presstime, July 1990, pp. 18-19.
 Rebecca Ross Albers, "Profiles in Journalism: The 'Lone Cowboy' Gives Way
to the Modern Journalist," Presstime online, April 1996
 Gary Graham and Tracy Thompson, Inside Newsroom Teams: An Editor's Guide
to the Promise and Problems. Evanston, Ill.: NMC, 1997.
 Regina Louise Lewis, "How Managerial Evolution Affects Newspaper Firms,"
Newspaper Research Journal, Winter-Spring 1997, pp. 103-125.
 Kathleen A. Hansen, Mark Neuzil and Jean Ward, Newsroom Topic Teams:
Journalists' Assessments of Effects on News Routines and Newspaper Quality,
paper presented at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass
Communication, Chicago, Ill., August 1997.
 John T. Russial, "Topic-Team Performance: A Content Study," Newspaper
Research Journal, Winter-Spring 1997, pp. 126-144.
 Russial's conclusion about morale may have been hasty. Oregonian executive
editor Sandra Mims Rowe told the Freedom Forum Newspaper Training Editors
Conference in San Francisco in May 1997 that flattening the newsroom structure
from one in which there were seven layers of editors between reporters and her
to one in which there are now two layers was difficult. In fact, it took a
stormy newsroom retreat to iron out problems at the newspaper. See Jack Hart,
unpublished manuscript, The Will to Change: A Management History of The
Oregonian, September 1995.
 Editor & Publisher circulation categories, as a percentage of all papers
of more than 25,000 circulation, were: more than 100,000--23.3 percent; 50,001
to 100,000--29.4 percent; and 25,001-50,000--47.3 percent. Survey returns by the
same circulation categories were: more than 100,000--25.8 percent; 50,001 to
100,000--29.4 percent; and 25,001 to 50,000--47.9 percent.