Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the 2021 report on AI and Machine Learning in emerging media markets which was jointly prepared by International Media Support, The Fix, and El Clip. You can read the full report here.
Media in the emerging markets of CEE and Latin America are struggling to attract talent but even more so to retain it. The major issue – attracting specialist talent and skills is a barrier to further adoption and growth. The media industry, with low salary offers and lack of exciting projects, becomes a last resort for aspiring candidates.
The economy-wide digital transformation has put a premium on already in-demand roles like data scientists or product managers with AI/ML experience. The data gathered by The Fix, EL CLip and IMS found 59% of LatAm managers and 62% in CEE said finding qualified candidates was their biggest challenge.
Media need to ensure these data and product people can effectively collaborate with editorial or commercial teams with limited technical literacy. Moreover, they need to keep them engaged and ready to turn down prospective head-hunters looking to lure them away.
“The biggest issue is what can a media organisation afford. The industry is under stress,” notes Mohamed Nanabhay, Deputy CEO of the Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF), which invests in media across many emerging markets.
Because media have been unable to grow their own talent – research and development budgets are virtually unheard of, argues Nanabhay – they have to poach them from other industries. There is high demand for this talent, especially post-pandemic when most businesses see digital presence and product quality as make or break.
The rising cost of specialists is prohibitive. Asked if they are hiring digital specialists, Russian media managers often “prefer to hire three journalists and do the same work manually,” explains Olga Dobyvsh, a lecturer at the University of Helsinki specializing on the Russian market.
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The result is that the media need to appeal to people’s sense of mission (i.e., working to support democratic values), or their desire to work for a known brand and have people see the result of their work – one of the few remaining competitive advantages available to media companies.
“There are people who look for tech jobs, but are mission driven too. People who work with open data, while they could work for Google,” according to Nanabhay. Advanced AI/ML talent is already rare in many smaller emerging markets.
Meanwhile, big tech is actively poaching anyone with related skills, raising prices. “These data profiles are very expensive, especially in a time when we are fighting for survival,” says Sebastian Rivas, Audiences General Editor at La Tercera newspaper in Chile.
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“The challenge is not to find it but to retain the technological talent.”, says Gastón Roitberg, Digital Assistant Managing Editor at La Nación newspaper in Argentina. “A news organisation is not something that ends up being entirely cool to work with,” he explains.
It’s not just the “cool factor”, though this also plays a role. Young talented specialists will not stay in places they are not taken seriously. “It’s important to build the right culture,” says Linden from the University of Bergen. “There is an issue of lack of respect for Non-journalists.”
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However, this is changing – “earlier people might ignore the pink-haired digital person in the corner, but the rise of social media and understanding of tech has changed the situation,” explains Charlie Beckett of the LSE’s Polis Journalism AI project.
In Mexico, investigative media Verificado has been successful in attracting youngtech-savvy journalists to their ranks, but still finds it hard to pay for full-time data scientists.
Diego Vallejo, Chief Digital Officer from El Tiempo newspaper in Colombia explains they had to adapt to an average turnover of 40% and a maximum duration of two years for tech specialists by creating “new structures with high and fast pay raises.”
Even if pay and stature can be mostly replicated by media, many technology companies offer a wide complexity of tasks and opportunities to learn the most advanced skills: opportunities which are rarer among news publishers. “An unexpected problem to attract and retain top data and digital talent is that the challenges are too small,” Linden explains. “The [digital specialists] get bored”.
The 2021 report entitled ‘The next wave of Disruption: Emerging market media use of artificial intelligence and machine learning’ focuses on publishers applying AI, ML and Data Processing as part of their business operations in 20 countries of Latin America, and Central and Eastern Europe. The data was gathered via deep-dive case studies of 44 media outlets and over 33 hours of interviews with experts.