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Abstract

The objective of this article is to analyze the meaning of journalists' voluntary turnover in the configuration of the space that they have historically occupied: newsrooms. Drawing on Auge's concept of non-place and fieldwork in the leading newspapers of three northern Mexican states, it is discovered that the recurring recreation of turnover events transforms newsrooms from spaces of permanence into spaces of transition; that is, from places to non-places. The scope of this phenomenon transcends the entry and exit of a certain generation since it erodes the identitarian, relational and historical character of these spaces.
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402
Víctor Hugo Reyna
DOI: 10.25200/BJR.v17n2.2021.1394
ARTICLE
VÍCTOR HUGO REYNA
Universidad De La Salle Bajío, León – Guanajuato – México
ORCID: 0000-0001-8870-7067
DOI: 10.25200/BJR.v17n2.2021.1394
Received in: January 11th, 2021
Desk Reviewed: January 16th, 2021
Desk Review Editor: Fábio Pereira
Revised on: March 1st, 2021
Approved on: April 9th, 2021
NEWSROOMS AS NON
PLACES
ABSTRACT – The objective of this article is to analyze the meaning of journalists’
voluntary turnover in the configuration of the space that they have historically
occupied: newsrooms. Drawing on Auge’s concept of non-place and fieldwork
in the leading newspapers of three northern Mexican states, it is discovered that
the recurring recreation of turnover events transforms newsrooms from spaces of
permanence into spaces of transition; that is, from places to non-places. The scope of
this phenomenon transcends the entry and exit of a certain generation since it erodes
the identitarian, relational and historical character of these spaces.
Key words: Mexico. Non-places. Journalism. Turnover. Newsrooms.
REDAÇÕES COMO NÃO LUGARES
RESUMO – O objetivo deste artigo é analisar o significado da rotatividade voluntária
dos jornalistas na configuração do espaço que historicamente ocuparam: as redações.
Com base no conceito de Augé de não-lugar e do trabalho de campo realizado junto aos
principais jornais de três estados do norte do México, conclui-se que a recorrência de
eventos de demissão transforma as redações, de espaços de permanência em espaços
403
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de transição; ou seja, de lugares em não-lugares. O alcance deste fenômeno transcende
a entrada e saída de uma determinada geração, pois corrói a identidade, o carácter
relacional e histórico destes espaços.
Palavras-chave: México. Não-lugares. Jornalismo. Rotatividade profissional. Redações.
LAS SALAS DE REDACCIÓN COMO NO LUGARES
RESUMEN – El objetivo de este artículo es analizar el significado de la rotación de
personal voluntaria de los periodistas en la configuración del espacio que históricamente
han ocupado: las salas de redacción. A partir del concepto de no lugar de Augé y trabajo
de campo en los principales periódicos de tres estados del norte de México, se descubre
que la recreación recurrente de los eventos de renuncia transforma a las redacciones de
espacios de permanencia en espacios de transición; es decir, de lugares en no lugares. El
alcance de este fenómeno trasciende la entrada y la salida de determinada generación,
pues erosiona el carácter identitario, relacional e histórico de estos espacios.
Palabras clave: México. No lugares. Periodismo. Rotación de personal. Salas de
redacción.
1 Introduction
The financial recession of the newspaper industry has con-
tributed to the increase in attention to phenomena such as job sat-
isfaction, burnout, and turnover from the international community
of journalism scholars (Liu et al., 2018; MacDonald et al., 2016; Re-
inardy, 2017). Beyond the wave of closures and cutbacks that this
process has caused, this body of works has shown that the decline
in the economic activity of this productive sector can also manifest
in the mental and physical health of journalists, as well as in their
turnover intentions.
Despite the relevance of these phenomena, publications re-
lated to them are still scarce in Latin America (Beza & Gutiérrez, 2018;
Mellado & Castillo, 2012; Reyna, 2019a). Instead, studies focused on
professional culture predominate (Amado, 2017; Oller & Viera, 2019;
Mellado et al., 2021). Intending to contribute to the development
of the field of journalism studies, this article proposes not only to
analyze the phenomenon of turnover but to question its meaning in
the configuration of the space that journalists have traditionally oc-
cupied: newsrooms.
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DOI: 10.25200/BJR.v17n2.2021.1394
Based on Augé’s (2008) concept of non-place and fieldwork in
the leading newspapers of northern Mexico, we have found that vol-
untary turnover is turning newsrooms from spaces of permanence into
spaces of transition; that is, from places in an anthropological sense
into non-places. The scope of the change transcends the entry and exit
from the journalism of a certain generation, as it erodes the identitar-
ian, relational and historical character of these spaces and makes new
generations enter them with less or no incentive to reestablish them.
In contrast, micro-blogging and instant messaging platforms
such as Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp are emerging as the place for
journalists who have not yet enacted their turnover intentions. Such
transformation derives both from the reduced influence journalists
perceive to have in their workplaces and from their need to establish
horizontal relationships —among their peers— to cope with intense and
unsatisfying workloads. In other words, as journalists feel that they are
not considered in the decision-making process of their newsrooms-orga-
nizations, they are taking refuge where their voices are heard.
The article is organized into three sections. The first sec-
tion develops a theoretical framework for the study of the impact
of voluntary turnover on the changing nature of the configuration
of the space historically occupied by journalists: newsrooms. The
second section describes the research design employed. The third
section presents the analysis of the empirical research carried out in
the newsrooms of the leading newspapers of Baja California, Nuevo
Leon, and Sonora, accentuating the erosion of their identitarian, rela-
tional and historical character.
2 Theoretical framework
Newsrooms have been the place of journalists since the mid-
19th century. With the industrialization and professionalization of
journalism, came the time when it was determined that the writing,
editing, and layout of newspapers should be carried out in a space
exclusively dedicated to it. For Nerone and Barnhurst (2003), news-
rooms make sense once the editorial work (writing, editing, and lay-
out) is separated from the mechanical work (printing) because until
then there was no division of labor between the work of an editor and
that of a printer; in other words, the editor of a newspaper was the
person who printed the newspaper.
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Through photographic evidence from the 1930s, Hardt and
Brennen (1999) find structural similarities between newsrooms and
textile sweatshops, with typewriters replacing sewing machines. Thus,
Nerone and Barnhurst (2003) argue that typewriters were key in the
institutionalization of the newsroom as the workplace of journalists,
as they were the technologies to anchor them to a desk. In this sense,
these spaces are, from their origin, heteronomous spaces where deci-
sion-makers have tried to control news production vertically.
In Mexico, newsrooms emerged at the end of the 19th centu-
ry, between the 1870s and 1880s, when newspapers began their tran-
sition from an artisan workshop to an industry (Del Palacio, 1995). It
is within the context of this transformation that it is determined that
reporters —an emerging figure in the journalism of the time — had to
work in a room with their newspaper colleagues. This process did not
develop uniformly throughout the country but it was expressed in
different ways throughout the national territory. For example, in the
North, it began during the 20th century, when it became necessary to
gather journalists in a workplace (Cejudo, 2013).
To contribute to the study of the impact of voluntary turn-
over on the configuration of the space traditionally occupied by jour-
nalists, this article elaborates on Augé’s (2008) concept of non-place.
For this author, a non-place is “a space that can be defined neither as
a space of identity nor as relational nor as historical” (p. 83). He uses
this denomination to conceptualize spaces of passage, of transition,
such as airports, highways, shopping malls, and hotels as opposed to
places in an anthropological sense.
In her studies on the industrialization of American journal-
ism, Wallace (2005, 2012) argues that the establishment of New
York’s newspapers in high skyscrapers and on the main avenues of
the city was not random but had an intention: to communicate the
power of the emerging industry. This intentionality can be interpret-
ed in two ways: on the one hand, there is an institutional dimension
aimed at warning about the societal influence of journalism; on the
other hand, there is an organizational dimension focused on attract-
ing journalistic talent.
Thus, while the exterior of newspaper buildings became an
urban landmark, the inside —especially their newsrooms — became
a reference for the community of journalism professionals in a given
city, state, or country. This means that, just as tourists used to visit
newspaper facilities to get to know a place they considered to be
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identitarian, relational, and historical, journalists aspired to be there
to develop long-term careers. This remained relatively stable until the
2008 recession when working for newspapers lost part of its aura.
Although Augé’s (2008) empirical referents are airports, high-
ways, shopping malls, and hotels, his theorization can be extrapo-
lated to the study of the structural transformation of newsrooms. In
it, he argues that a non-place “never exists in a pure form [because]
places are recomposed, relationships are reconstituted” (p.84). Does
this mean that a place can become a non-place if, at some point, it
loses its identitarian, relational and historical meaning? Or do places
in an anthropological sense retain their status forever? What happens
to churches that, emptied of meaning, become cultural centers?
Our interpretation of the concept of non-place is unortho-
dox. First, it seeks to conceptualize the organizational and spatial
consequences of the recurring enactment of turnover events in the
newsrooms of leading newspapers in northern Mexico, not to discuss
if airports, highways, shopping malls, and hotels are or are not places
in an anthropological sense. Second, it is interested in the change
rather than in the continuity of the space historically occupied by
journalists to examine the erosion of its identitarian, relational and
historical character.
From an organizational perspective, Augé’s (2008) charac-
terization of non-places is relevant for emphasizing the transitory,
prescriptive, prohibitive, and informative character of this type of
space. The first characteristic alludes both to the fact that airports,
highways, shopping malls, and hotels are connecting spaces to get
from one point to another and to the presentism that predominates in
them because there is no past to remember and no future to imagine.
The second characteristic refers to their heteronomy, to the constant
orientation to which they subject their passengers in transit.
These two characteristics correspond with what we ob-
served in the newsrooms of newspapers in Baja California, Nuevo
Leon, and Sonora during our fieldwork. First, these workplaces have
been changed into transitional spaces by a generation that refuses
to remain in them. To quote the metaphor that Beck (1998) uses to
describe the fragility of employment in contemporary society: “It is
like in the subway. I get on at one station, I get off a few stations later.
When I get on, I am already thinking about getting off” (p.119). The
difference is that the turnover in question is increasingly voluntary
(resignations) rather than involuntary (layoffs).
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Secondly, a combination of standardization, individualiza-
tion, and job control deficit, as well as a culture of fear and strict
codes of behavior, have made newsrooms prescriptive, prohibitive,
and informative spaces. In them, journalists have little or no capac-
ity to influence decision-making and are frequently reminded that
they are unessential for the organization through the discourse “With
you and without you, the newspaper will go on”. This contributes to
making them feel like passengers in transit rather than inhabitants
of these spaces, establishing a vicious circle with the previous point.
Augé (2008) seems to be concerned with the emergence of
non-places not only as spaces of transition but also as spaces of “soli-
tude and similarity” (p.107). His gaze is nostalgic and focuses on la-
menting the gradual erosion of the relationship between space and
society caused by the advanced phase of capitalism, which he con-
ceptualizes as “supermodernity”. It should be noted that the original
edition of Non-places: An introduction to supermodernity (Non-lieux:
introduction à une anthropologie de la surmodernité, in French) dates
back to the early 1990s. At that time, the act of moving from one place
to another could be extremely solitary and lacking in socialization.
Between the 2000s and 2010s, with the popularization of
smartphones, this begins to change. Smartphones have become
ubiquitous, and mobile technology allows their users to keep in
touch with family and friends even while transiting non-places such
as airports, highways, shopping malls, and hotels. While this may not
have transformed non-places into places, it has taken some of the
loneliness from their transients. In an interview with Wahl-Jorgensen
(2008, p.964), Benhabib posits that this can be harmful because peo-
ple walk around with a “bubble wrap around their brains”.
With and against Augé, Varnelis and Friedberg (2008) devel-
op a new concept of place to make sense of the augmented, mobile,
virtual and networked spaces that emerge with the development of
smartphones and their micro-blogging and instant messaging plat-
forms. Instead of lamenting or celebrating the emergence of these
spaces, these authors emphasize how the notion of place is modified
by the permanent access to the Internet produced by mobile technol-
ogy. Thus, they challenge Augé’s (2008) approach by noting that the
users of these technologies do not only occupy or transit through
one space and that they can —virtually— be in several places at the
same time:
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Much has changed since Augé’s day. The proliferation of mobile
phones and the widespread adoption of always-on broadband
Internet connections in homes and offices in the developed
world means that we are not necessarily alone, even if we are
not interacting with those close to us. (Varnelis & Friedberg,
2008, p.20).
This conceptualization is key to our analysis of the chang-
ing character of newsrooms. If by following Augé’s (2008) defini-
tion of non-place we can make sense of the erosion of the iden-
titarian, relational and historical character of these workplaces,
Varnelis and Friedberg’s (2008) theorization allows us to approach
the refuge of journalists in micro-blogging and instant messaging
platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp. Their pres-
ences and absences, as well as their mobility and immobility, can
thus be questioned to enhance our understanding of the organi-
zational and spatial consequences of the recurring enactment of
turnover events.
3 Research design
How do we study the erosion of the identitarian, relational
and historical character of newsrooms? The ethnography of news-
rooms could suggest an anthropological approach, based on the
participant or non-participant observation of the organizational
dynamics of these workplaces. This would imply that the research-
er could enter one or several newsrooms to carry out his or her
fieldwork over a long period, in order to generate a dense descrip-
tion of what he or she observed. To avoid ethical conflicts, the
researcher should have permission from the managers of these
newsrooms-organizations.
In Mexico, such fieldwork is not always feasible. If survey-
ing and interviewing journalists is complex due to the assent bias
and deliberate falsification in which they tend to engage to protect
their image and that of their organizations, organizational barriers
are added to the on-site observation of their activities. In this coun-
try, news organizations tend to resist social research because they
do not distinguish it from investigative journalism and fear that
their secrets will be exposed to the public. At least in part, this ex-
plains the lack of ethnographies of Mexican newsrooms (Escobedo,
2018; Merchant, 2017).
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At the beginning of our fieldwork in the newspapers of north-
ern Mexico, when we had not yet defined the research techniques
to be used, we were given access to Milenio Monterreys newsroom.
We conducted some interviews, carried out some observation exer-
cises, and even took photographs. When we tried to replicate this
fieldwork in the other leading newspaper of Monterrey, El Norte, we
encountered organizational barriers: not only were we not granted
the requested access, but the journalists with whom we had already
arranged a face-to-face meeting were asked to cancel interviews.
For this reason, we needed to resort to alternative method-
ological strategies such as non-probability chain sampling, better
known as snowball sampling, and to the research technique of the
interview instead of surveys or observation. Since our initial inter-
est was the voluntary turnover in newspapers in northern Mexico,
particularly in Baja California, Nuevo Leon, and Sonora, and not the
changing nature of the journalists’ workplace, we considered that
the expression of these workers on their own terms was a priority
and opted not to continue with the observation exercises initiated in
Milenio Monterrey.
Notwithstanding the organizational obstacles and method-
ological decisions, by questioning journalists and former journalists
in this region about their experiences and perceptions, we began to
understand that newsrooms were being transformed from spaces of
permanence into spaces of transition by a generation that refused to
remain in them. This led us to Augé’s (2008) concept of non-place and
to pay closer attention to the erosion of the identitarian, relational
and historical sense of these workplaces that was caused by the re-
curring enactment of turnover events.
In total, we conducted 64 interviews, 36 with women and
28 with men. The imbalance in favor of women responds not only
to the growing feminization of newsrooms, but also to the fact
that women are more likely to resign due to various sociocultural
factors, and also to the fact that men were more likely to cancel
scheduled interviews. Of these 64 interviews, 20 were conducted
in Baja California, and 22 in both Nuevo Leon and Sonora (Table
1). This sample allowed us to reach information saturation as in-
terviewees began to be reiterative beyond their organization or
state of origin.
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Table 1 – Distribution of journalists and former journalists
interviewed Baja California Nuevo Leon Sonora
Women 10 13 13
Men 10 9 9
Total 20 22 22
Source: own elaboration.
All the interviews were recorded and transcribed. A total of
60 hours and 35 minutes of interviews were recorded, with the lon-
gest being 2 hours and 35 seconds and the shortest being 21 min-
utes and 35 seconds. For this article, open coding was carried out to
classify the experiences and perceptions of journalists and former
journalists in northern Mexico under Augé’s (2008) three categories
of analysis of place and non-place: identitarian, relational and histori-
cal character. Open coding was also carried out to process that re-
lated to the use of smartphones and their micro-blogging and instant
messaging platforms.
4 Newsrooms as non-places
According to the journalists and former journalists that we
interviewed, the newsrooms of the leading newspapers in northern
Mexico are transitional spaces. For those who do not want to stay, they
are transitional spaces because they do not find satisfaction in their
working conditions and relations nor in their organization of labor, ma-
terializing their turnover intentions as soon as they can. For those who
do want to stay, they are transitional spaces because the individualiza-
tion and flexibilization of work do not allow them to develop long-term
careers in them, as they can be dismissed at any time.
In order to analyze their experiences and perceptions of the
changing character of these workplaces, we classified them accord-
ing to Augé’s (2008) aforementioned categories of analysis. This has
allowed us to examine the broad spectrum of transformation accord-
ing to their inhabitants, now transformed into passengers in transit.
In this case, we are interested in accounting for the erosion of the
identitarian, relational and historical character of newsrooms, as well
as the displacement of journalists who are yet to materialize their
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turnover intentions to micro-blogging and instant messaging plat-
forms such as Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp.
4.1. The erosion of the identitarian character
For most of the 20th century, journalists were represented
as full-time workers who performed tasks of editing, reporting, or
photographing in a consolidated news organization. Until 2019, the
Royal Spanish Academy (RAE) (2014, p.6732) defined a journalist as
a “[p]erson professionally engaged in a newspaper or audiovisual me-
dium in literary or graphic tasks of information or opinion creation”.
With the turn of the century and the flexibilization of work in news
organizations, the stability of employment in this productive sector
was fractured and, with it, the identitarian character of newsrooms.
If journalists used to define themselves based on the news-
room-organization that employed them, in the 21st century, they in-
creasingly define themselves beyond it. In other words, journalists no
longer introduce themselves only as workers of a certain newsroom-
organization because their identities and professional trajectories are
less and less linked to this type of workplace. This can be conceptual-
ized as the erosion of the identitarian character of newsrooms and as
the split of the journalist-organization binomial, since spatially and
occupationally journalists have ceased to depend on a newsroom-
organization to perform their labor.
Among the journalists and former journalists that we inter-
viewed in Baja California, Nuevo Leon, and Sonora, there is a con-
trast of perceptions and experiences that accounts for this transfor-
mation. On the one hand, journalists born between the 1950s and
1960s express a strong identity with their newsroom-organization
with phrases such as “I am a proud Imparcialera from that era [late
1980s]” (Journalist 1, personal communication, 2016). On the other
hand, journalists born between the 1980s and 1990s state the op-
posite: “as soon as I could, I took off my badge [from El Imparcial], I
didn’t like it” (Journalist 2, personal communication, 2016).
Goyanes and Rodríguez (2021) state that the job uncertainty
generated by the financial recession of the journalism industry has
installed presentism in the professional trajectories of journalists.
Understood as an individual propensity to focus on the present, on
the here and now, presentism is observable in the new generations,
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who enter newsrooms without the intention of staying in them. This
presentism, this being there until further notice, prevents journalists
from developing an identity with their newsroom-organization even
when they are employed by a leading newspaper such as El Impar-
cial, El Norte, or Zeta.
The concepts of presentism and labor uncertainty used by
Goyanes and Rodríguez (2021) are sound with the notions of individ-
ualization and unemployment risk used by Reyna (2019b), insofar as
they give meaning to the fragility of employment caused by the insti-
tutionalization of individual labor relations, between employee and
employer. In northern Mexico, these transformations are compound-
ed by the entry into the labor market of a generation of journalists
with greater awareness of their labor rights, creating a combination
between expectations and realities that blows up the identities with
the newsroom-organization:
There is no longer any identity with media or with newsrooms,
whatever you want to call them, because [the news organiza-
tions] are very [abusive], they keep you in a precarious situa-
tion... there are no contracts...! So, [rather than being part of
a newsroom], you feel like a reporter, rather, of your subjects,
of your projects, or your work, and that is what you go around
defending and bragging about. How are you going to feel part
of a media outlet, of a newsroom, if they don’t give you social
security if they don’t give you [anything]? (Journalist 3, personal
communication, 2020).
For journalists who resign from a news organization but not
from journalism, developing protean careers by moving from one or-
ganization to another without identifying with any of them or directly
employing themselves as freelancers to offer their labor to one or
several organizations, identity with their work replaces identity with
their newsroom-organization. In a sense, this is what Beck (1998)
has called the individualization of employment and unemployment
but expressed as an unexpected and unwanted consequence of the
erosion of the identitarian character of newsrooms.
For journalists who do not aspire to develop a career in
journalism, the weakness of their identity with the newsroom-orga-
nization allows them to conceive their newspaper employment as
a temporary employment, as a steppingstone into political or cor-
porate communication. Working one or two years at a major news-
paper — these professionals rationalize — allows them to demon-
strate to their next employer that they can work under pressure and
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stress. With the interview for their next job in mind, it is key for
them to quit before they are fired and to emphasize that they left
journalism to grow as professionals:
I wanted to work at El Norte because I know it is a renowned
newspaper, not only in Monterrey but in the country... And,
well... I wanted it for my résumé, to have experience on my
résumé. I did not get there with the idea of making a career at El
Norte, no... To spend many years there... well, no. The truth is
that I did not... I went in with the idea of getting the most out of
it, to see it as an experience, and to learn. (Journalist 4, personal
communication, 2016).
Spatially, both the displacement of identity with the news-
room-organization towards an identity with one’s own work and the
conception of journalism as temporary employment empty news-
rooms of identitarian meaning and turn them into transitional spaces,
into what Augé (2008) has conceptualized as non-places. If the staff
does not identify with their newsroom-organization, and if voluntary
and involuntary turnover does not allow a sense of belonging to de-
velop, a social reproduction occurs and it does not reestablish, but
rather further erodes the identitarian character of newsrooms.
On this level, the organizational and spatial consequences of
the recurring enactment of turnover events in newspapers in north-
ern Mexico is that newsrooms lose their aura as referents of the jour-
nalistic community of the region and cease to be attractive to new
talent. This is recognized both by young journalists who state that “it
is different [to] make a career in journalism than [to] make a career
in a newspaper” (Journalist 5, personal communication, 2016) and
by veterans who admit that newspapers are no longer “generating
the brand or organizational loyalty that they used to” (Journalist 6,
personal communication, 2016).
4.2. The erosion of the relational character
Since their origin, newsrooms have been heteronomous spac-
es that attempt to control news production in a top-down manner. In
northern Mexican newspapers, the modernization process initiated
during the 1970s reinforced this prescriptive, prohibitive and infor-
mative character by establishing a series of norms aimed at guiding
journalists, from beginning to end, in the reporting, writing, and edit-
ing processes. These norms were expressed formally in codes of eth-
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ics and style manuals, and informally through a culture of fear. The
aim was to monitor production and punish deviation.
Despite this authoritarianism, the journalists who were part
of this transformation were satisfied and had a strong identity with
their newsroom-organization. For them, those workplaces were spac-
es of permanence, not of transition, not only because they were lead-
ing a historic change in Mexican journalism, but also because the
relational nature of the newsrooms of the time made them feel part of
a family and wanted to make a long-term career in them. This sense
of belonging was so powerful that it made them normalize adverse
working conditions such as extended working hours:
Before we were part of a family, now it is a company
[...]. There is not the same spirit in the newsrooms, I do
not see that. I do not see passion. I think the keyword
is that because if you are passionate about something,
you do not care if it sucks the life out of you [...]. The
new generations now want schedules. Before we did
not have a life and we did not care. The newsroom was
our life, it was our second family. My colleagues from
back then are still my friends because we created very
strong bonds. And now, [the new generations] do not...
Nowadays, everyone is on their telephones, with their
headphones, writing... They write their news, finish
and leave [...]. Now, the less you know about me, the
better. There is no fraternity, they are not interested.
(Journalist 1, personal communication, 2016).
In addition to schedules, journalists born between the 1980s
and 1990s express dissatisfaction with the prescriptive, prohibitive,
and informative nature of newsrooms, as they feel it reduces their abil-
ity to influence decision-making and turns them into mere reproducers
of pre-established patterns of behavior. Even when some acknowledge
having learned the basics of journalism in a newsroom-organization,
they prefer to distance themselves from it in order to develop protean
careers or employ themselves as freelancers because they know that
in a newspaper, they will never have full control over their work:
A newsroom gives you feedback all the time. You have people with
a lot of experience in any number of subjects who also help you,
but there comes a time when you already have your voice, you
have your identity, you have your gaze [...]. I miss, sometimes,
the noisy newsrooms and the party going on over there, and the
support... but not much, to tell you the truth. I prefer to have, to
feel that the text that comes out is completely mine, that there is
no head that an editor put in that I don’t agree with, that there is
no last paragraph that was cut because there was no space, that a
given name was removed because the director did not want it, but
that everything that comes out is completely something that I did.
(Journalist 7, personal communication, 2017).
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Dissatisfaction with the ability to influence organizational de-
cision-making is compounded by factors such as the gradual deviation
from the modernizing ideals of newspapers and the omnipresence of
smartphones at work and in the daily lives of journalists, as well as
the institutionalization of a turnover culture in the newspapers of Baja
California, Nuevo Leon and Sonora. With constant staff turnover and
journalists’ professional ideals becoming increasingly difficult to put
into practice, the relational nature of newsrooms is eroded, and micro-
blogging and instant messaging platforms emerge as a refuge.
In particular, the omnipresence of phones at work and in the
daily lives of journalists is key to this transformation because it al-
lows them to be and at the same time not to be in the newsroom. In
their own way, this is what journalists born between the 1950s and
1960s complain about when they describe the new generations as
connected to their devices, but disconnected from their environment,
their peers, and their workplaces: “young people live in their world...
they use their headphones, they are into their tablets, they are on
their telephones... they do not see the world” (Journalist 8, personal
communication, 2016).
Rather than chastising journalists born between the 1980s
and 1990s for living with a “bubble wrap around their brains” (Ben-
habib in Wahl-Jorgensen, 2008, p.964), we need to analyze the signif-
icance of their shift from the physical space of newsrooms to the vir-
tual space of micro-blogging and instant messaging platforms such
as Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp. According to them, newsrooms
as a workplace have lost meaning now that mobile technologies have
made “it easier to be in the office without being in the office, or to
be in the newsroom without being in the newsroom” (Journalist 4,
personal communication, 2016):
I think physical presence in the newsrooms is overrated. At El Im-
parcial, there was no point in being in the newsroom if the com-
munication channels were murky and bureaucratized [...]. I think
that the complaints from the old guard about us young people,
the “egomaniac millennials connected to technology 24/7” has a
somewhat perverse background: the presence and involvement
in the newsrooms, which used to be aimed at molding and per-
meating the ideology or the position of the media in young jour-
nalists. (Journalist 10, personal communication, 2019).
For this generation, micro-blogging and instant messaging
platforms are working tools and socialization spaces. Beyond their
employment, authors such as Boczkowski et al. (2017) argue that
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if something distinguishes this cohort is that they do not use but
inhabit the networks. So, if their workplaces have “a super hostile en-
vironment, [with] everything very controlled” (Journalist 11, personal
communication, 2016), for them it is natural to take refuge in the
virtual space. This makes even more sense if we consider that their
identities are increasing with the product of their work rather than
with their newsrooms-organizations.
Following Augé (2008), the prescriptive, prohibitive and in-
formative character of these workplaces erodes their relational sense
and turns them into non-places, into transitional spaces. Instead of
trying to re-establish them, the new generations of journalists limit
themselves to transit to their next job while simultaneously inhabiting
the virtual space. Thus, even if they do not interact with those who are
physically close to them, they are never alone (Varnelis & Friedberg,
2008). This is key both for coping with intense and unsatisfying work-
loads and for defining their next step in the world of work.
4.3. The erosion of the historical character
During the last decades, the newsrooms and journalists of
northern Mexico’s newspapers have become unwitting scenarios and
protagonists of a wide range of acts of violence. In Baja California,
Zeta has suffered the murder of one of its founders, Héctor “El Gato”
Félix, and the murder attempt of the other, Jesús Blancornelas, as well
as the murder of one of its editors, Francisco Ortiz, and countless
threats. In Nuevo Leon, El Norte has received multiple attacks on its
facilities. In Sonora, El Imparcial has suffered the disappearance of
one of its reporters, José Alfredo Jiménez, and Expreso has received
funeral wreaths as threats.
These events have marked the community of journalists in
this region (Beza & Gutiérrez, 2018; Merchant, 2018; Reyna, 2014)
and have contributed not only to voluntary turnover but also to the
reduction of enrollment in communication and journalism schools.
Despite this, when visiting the newsrooms of these states, we found
an absence of elements reminiscent of these acts of violence. The
exception was Zeta, which had an altar in honor of Blancornelas in
its reception and the typewriter that he used in its conference room.
The rest were dominated by the front pages of historical events and
by famous phrases of their founders and owners.
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If, as Augé (2008) theorizes, non-places are spaces without
history, the newsrooms of Baja, California, Nuevo Leon, and Sonora
are also non-places because they are workplaces in which there is no
past to recall nor a future to imagine. In short, presentism manifests
itself both in the stay until further notice of the new generations of
journalists and in the suppression of any element that refers to the
collective memory of journalists. This favors the deterioration of the
identity with the newsroom-organization and makes its workers feel
like passengers in transit.
In Sonora, the disappearance and probable murder of Jimé-
nez caused his fellow journalists to gradually leave El Imparcial. In
several interviews, these journalists and former journalists listed
the loss of the hypothetical nature of danger and the inadequate re-
sponse by the organization as triggers of their turnover intentions.
One of them stated that he decided to resign from the newspaper and
from journalism when he realized that the priority of his superiors
was to recover Jiménez’s equipment rather than to find him dead or
alive (Journalist 12, personal communication, 2017). This indifference
made him and his colleagues confirm that they were replaceable:
Here there is only journalistic memory of Mr. Healy, of Don José
S. Healy, the founding father of El Imparcial, of his legacy as
a philanthropist, as a businessman in journalism, as an exem-
plary family man, a Catholic, and of the foundation that bears
his name. That is all the memory there is: family, institutional,
patriarchal, hierarchical, but the journalistic memory, the trib-
ute or the permanent presence that should be a reminder [not
to] repeat past mistakes, no... It is condemning the fate of an
organization and its personnel... It does not exist, there is not a
single reference to Alfredo. There are no notes of Alfredo posted
or pasted on the walls, there is no hallway or room that says,
“Alfredo Jiménez newsroom.” There is nothing: it is a cold, emp-
ty building, [that says:] “nothing happened here” (Journalist 13,
personal communication, 2019).
In addition to events of violence directly targeting the news-
rooms and their journalists, coverage of traumatic events, such as
the fire at the ABC daycare center in Sonora, or the extrajudicial
execution of two graduate students at the Instituto Tecnológico y
de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM) in Nuevo Leon, is also
erased from these spaces. In some cases, it is because decision-mak-
ers determine that coverage should be interrupted to protect their
economic and political interests. In other cases, because they decide
that coverage should continue despite the trauma of the journalists
who were on the scene.
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In Expreso, the coverage of the fire at the ABC daycare center,
in which 49 children died, was “a tremendous mental and emotional
strain [not only for] living and telling the stories of the parents [of the
victims, but also for] the ethical debate about how much we should
get involved” (Journalist 14, personal communication, 2017). Added
to this physical and mental exhaustion was the trauma of the untime-
ly entrance of the owner of the newspaper, Julio Luebbert, to decree
the interruption of this coverage. This emptied this newsroom-orga-
nization of its personnel because it provoked a series of resignations
and left it without the possibility of becoming a reference in the re-
gion’s journalism:
We were all very affected by the ABC issue in the newsroom.
So, [the owner’s decision to censor the coverage] was a very
strong blow within the newsroom. And we thought it was just
a tantrum, a spur of the moment, and that he was going to re-
consider, but he never reconsidered. In fact, they reconsidered
about a year later... or more!... maybe a year and a half later they
dared to publish something, and small [...]. Maybe, if Aristegui
[her resignation from MVS Radio to found Aristegui Noticias af-
ter a censorship event] had happened at that time, we would
have taken it as an example to follow... Or else I don’t know...
Anyway, we lacked the maturity or vision to do something like
that, something strong, right? Maybe because we were confi-
dent that the reader was going to react, that people were go-
ing to react... and people did not react. (Journalist 15, personal
communication, 2016).
In this way, the heteronomous nature of newsrooms merges
with the deficit of elements of journalistic memory and the journal-
ists’ diminished sense of belonging to reinforce the transformation of
these workplaces into spaces of transition, of permanent turnover. By
erasing the memory of the events that have marked the newsroom-
organization, by pushing aside the journalists’ point of view in the
organizational decision-making process, it becomes practically im-
possible to reestablish them as places in an anthropological sense
and their new incumbents arrive at them unaware of the history of
the space that they occupy.
If newspapers are unable to communicate their historic
character to their employees and to their audience, and if they do
not strive to endorse it on a daily basis, in their print and digital
editions, through socially relevant journalism, they inevitably lose
the place they once held. In the 21st century, not even the great
skyscrapers on the main avenues of the most important cities are
enough to convey the journalistic industry’s capacity for societal
419
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influence or to attract new journalistic talent. Without a social base,
without an identitarian, relational and historical character, the fu-
ture of newsrooms hangs by a thread.
5 Conclusions
This article analyzed the transformation of the newsrooms in
the leading newspapers in Northern Mexico from spaces of perma-
nence into spaces of transition. Based on interviews with journalists
and former journalists from Baja California, Nuevo Leon, and Sonora
and emphasizing the erosion of the identitarian, relational and his-
torical character of these workplaces, we found that the combination
of the displacement of identity with the newsroom-organization to
an identity with one’s work, the intensification of their heteronomous
nature and the absence of elements of journalistic memory is turning
them into non-places and temporary work dwellings.
In contrast to studies on job satisfaction, professional
burnout, and staff turnover in journalism (Liu et al., 2018; MacDonald
et al., 2016; Reinardy, 2017), this article focused on the organizational
and spatial consequences of the recurrent recreation of turnover
events. Although the study of the impact of this phenomenon on
the professional trajectories of journalists-turned-former journalists
is of great relevance to the field of journalism studies, it does not
allow us to observe its expression in the configuration of the space
traditionally occupied by journalists.
In the same vein, beyond the emphasis on news production
bequeathed by both the ethnography of newsrooms and the sociol-
ogy of news, this article has shown that there are several phenomena
commonly ignored by the global community of journalism scholars
because they adhere to the dominant lines of research and perspec-
tives of our field. This coincides with the criticism that Wahl-Jorgensen
(2009) raised against the centrality of newsrooms in journalism stud-
ies, as it shows how these workplaces are losing their given character
for the new generations of journalists.
Conceptually, both Augé’s (2008) notion of non-place and
Varnelis and Friedberg’s (2008) theorization of augmented, mobile,
virtual, and networked space have been extrapolated to the study of
the structural transformation of newsrooms-organizations to make
sense of the emptying of the meaning of these physical spaces and
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the gradual refuge of journalists in micro-blogging and instant mes-
saging platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp. This con-
ceptualization opens a line of research in the studies on job satisfac-
tion, burnout, and turnover in journalism.
Using qualitative research techniques such as interviews and
observation, future studies could interrogate the changing character
of newsrooms not only in Northern Mexico, but in the rest of the
country, and even in other countries. With the rise of digital-born
news organizations and their propensity to network, newsrooms
are losing their given character. Although some scholars have noted
some new ways of organizing news work (Anderson et al., 2014;
Deuze & Witschge, 2020; Hepp & Loosen, 2021), they have not yet
examined their identitarian, relational and historical implications.
Although this article has focused on the newsrooms of the
leading newspapers of Northern Mexico, its analytical perspective
can be used to interrogate what is happening in radio and television
stations, as well as in digital-born or digital-only news portals. During
the covid-19 pandemic that began in 2020, especially the newspa-
pers, TV, and radio stations in Mexico have forced their employees
to return to their newsrooms and face-to-face newsgathering despite
the risk of contagion. In response, a number of journalists —includ-
ing some of our interviewees— have opted to resign from the news
organizations that employed them and in some cases from journal-
ism altogether. In short, this is an ongoing phenomenon.
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VÍCTOR HUGO REYNA. Full-time research pro-
fessor at the Faculty of Communication and Mar-
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mail: vreyna@delasalle.edu.mx
TRANSLATED BY GABRIEL LEÓN
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En. The nuances and consequences of the structural precariousness of Mexican journalism vary with the region. Attacks on journalists by power groups (in- cluding public officials, politicians, and business and media owners) in the northwest of the country appear to be one of the many problems linked to its economic, socio-cultural and political instability. In Baja California, journalists practice their profession under constant threat of economic, ethical and psychological attack, obliging them to regard the phenomenon in one of two ways: as a naturalized aspect of their profession and there- fore inherent to it; or as a trigger for creating strategies to circumvent it, including adapting aspects of their professional journalistic lives. The topic is relevant because the classifica- tion and differentiation of attacks has not been explored by Mexican studies on the press and power, apart from identifying and defining the structural violence and investigating physical attacks against journalists (murders, assaults and “express kidnappings”). By way of a four-month ethnographic study of the union of journalists from the five municipalities of Baja California and 25 interviews with journalists, editors, heads of information, public officials, politicians and business owners, this paper analyzes the strategies employed by print journalists to cope with abuses. Having another job concurrently (within or without journalism); publicly proving who is trying to influence them; and maintaining union and solidarity among colleagues when publishing sensitive news are all strategies employed to counter attacks. In this journalistic world, those who employ these strategies become agents and not victims of the structural precariousness that has developed in Baja California over the better part of a century.
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Journalism’s Lost Generation discusses how the changes in the industry not only indicate a newspaper crisis, but also a crisis of local communities, a loss of professional skills, and a void in institutional and community knowledge emanating from newsrooms. Reinardy’s thorough and opinionated take on the transition seen in newspaper newsrooms is coupled with an examination of the journalism industry today. This text also provides a broad view of the newspaper journalism being produced today, and those who are attempting to produce it.
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Through a survey of 343 journalists from 5 metropolitan newspapers, this study explores the link between job satisfaction of journalists and their perceived work impact within the social context of China. The study shows that (a) Chinese journalists may not be happy about the current press system in China; however, this does not necessarily make them feel dissatisfied with their job; (b) In a controlled press system, journalists who find the system more acceptable tend to see the personal benefits offered by their job and to feel contented with their work environment; and (c) Journalists who find the existing press system acceptable are more likely to experience their personal impact on the news production process and perceive the significant influence of their newspaper. Such perceptions lead to greater satisfaction with their job.