Is journalist burnout on the rise?

You’re a newspaper journalist. Your editor doesn’t care that your sources won’t call back, she needs that story by 10 p.m. You rarely get to see your kids before they go to bed because that government meeting you’re covering drags on until late at night. You file a story about a complicated issue and you just know the next day some expert is going to call in and point out how you got the story wrong. You get crazy people calling in daily demanding you to write a story about such-and-such or accusing you of having a bias.

But worst of all, you do all this with the understanding that you’re being tremendously underpaid.

These are just some of the reasons that newspaper journalists gave in a recent study for why they intend to leave the industry.

Dr. Scott Reinardy, a 43-year-old professor with Ball State University, was sitting in a doctoral seminar class in the fall of 2003 when he started thinking about the stresses sports writers experience.

“Because sports is so intense, sports journalists would hear it from fans, coaches, players and their sports editor,” Reinardy told me earlier this week. “They all wanted something, and sometimes it led to combative situations. I started thinking in terms of post-traumatic stress, but there was no trauma. And, it’s hard to argue that covering ball games and eating pressbox food creates a great deal of stress, although the high-fat, high-sodium food can have adverse physical effects.”

For 15 years he had worked as a sports writer and editor for five daily papers, so he knew the hardships of newspaper journalism. In 2005 the Center for Disease Control listed journalism as the seventh most stressful job in the US, but Reinardy wanted to know if this led to journalists falling victim to burnout, a trend that would cause many to leave the profession.

Dr. Scott Reinardy worked for five daily newspapers and knew firsthand the stress of being a journalist.


So in early 2007, the professor sent emails to 1,452 U.S. daily newspapers explaining his study and requesting the staff e-mail lists of their full-time newspaper employees. After emailing all the contact addresses that were given to him, he was able to get 770 journalists to fill out an online survey.

Implementing something called the Maslach Burnout Inventory-General Survey, which was developed to measure the rate of burnout among professionals not working in human services, Reinardy tried to examine whether age, job title, and newspaper circulation would affect journalist job burnout.

The results he received from the study were interesting. The average income of respondents was $48,493, and the average journalist was 41.6 years old with 17.8 years of journalism experience. The majority of the respondents were reporters, followed by news editors, copy editors, executive editors and photographers.

“When the journalists were asked if they had intentions to leave newspaper journalism, 25.7 percent answered ‘yes’ and 36.2 percent answered ‘don’t know,’” the study states. “…Further examination reveals that 31 percent of young journalists (34 and younger) expressed intentions to leave the profession, and 43.5 percent answered ‘don’t know.’”

When those who said they wanted to leave the profession were asked why, “36 percent said money or salary was the reason, 27 percent said hours or schedule and 19 percent said stress or burnout. Also, a reference to family life was mentioned in 13 percent of the responses.”

After the study was completed, Reinardy concluded that though newspaper journalists had a high level of cynicism about their professions, they only had moderate rates of exhaustion and professional efficacy. And of the different job titles, copy editors at smaller papers experienced the highest level of burnout.

But where do all these journalists go? Are they moving out of the field completely or just moving on to other kinds of journalism? I posed these questions to Reinardy in my interview with him.

“Those intending to leave indicate that they will freelance, enter public relations, move into academia or return to school to advance their education in another area,” he replied. “Those are the primary answers. It’s really a mixed bagged, but the fact remains that there is a substantial percentage who intend to get out.”

He further speculated that many might try their hands at online media, and that those who do want to move away from newspapers but remain in the media have plenty of opportunities elsewhere.

But this is just the first in a series of studies that Reinardy intends to conduct. He said that his next move will be to interview 100 journalists at length to dive into the intricate reasons for why they’re so tired and dissatisfied with their jobs.

“My goal is to develop a management strategy that will address this issue,” he said. “Of course, there is not one-size-fits-all solution. Each organization has drastically different problems. But my research indicates that there are similarities that can be addressed. For now, I’m primarily interested in creating awareness about the issues troubling newspaper journalists. Quite honestly, the solutions will evolve from the industry. I hear the skeptics saying, ‘Yeah, right. newspaper publishers have no interest in saving their employees.’ Well, to some degree that may be true, but there will be a breaking point when product quality greatly diminishes profits. When that happens, perhaps management will realize that the news worker needs to be as valued as the stock holders. Perhaps I’m an optimist but what’s the alternative?”


  1. Wenalway Says:

    “Well, to some degree that may be true, but there will be a breaking point when product quality greatly diminishes profits. When that happens, perhaps management will realize that the news worker needs to be as valued as the stock holders. Perhaps I’m an optimist but what’s the alternative?”

    There is no alternative. Newspapers will keep doing what they’ve been doing. There will always be a new stream of recent college grads to hire.

    Few, if any, in newsroom management are concerned with employee retention. If anything, they want people to leave so they can cut positions or hire cheaper workers.

    That also explains why the people are dissatisfied with their jobs. They deal with apathetic, clueless management on a daily basis. The problem starts at the top with lazy, gutless managing editors who cower in their offices and do after-the-fact critiques while resolving no problems. It trickles down from there.

    Until the poor managers who know only the buzzphrases like “Just do it”; “Do more with less”; and “Work smarter, not harder” are fired and their policies are renounced, nothing will change.

    For that to happen, more journalists will have to step up and resist. But that won’t happen, either, as 98 percent of them cower underneath their desks and wait for the next decree from management. The bad managers may not know much, but they can be certain no one in today’s newsrooms will oppose them.


    The average journalist in this study is making $48,000 a year!!!. Please tell me where these people are working so I can apply for a job there. I’m barely ekeing out 30 grand.

  3. Simon Says:

    Re: BKreporter

    I was thinking the exact same thing when I interviewed him, I asked him a question that sort of had to do with that — he replied that his study was slightly skewed because a number of his respondents were from huge newspapers, and that threw off the average.

  4. Newspapers suck Says:

    I agree… the business is harvesting the remaining profits before the firesale. I recently quit the largest circ newspaper in the southeast. It is officially garbage. For the past few days, under their main “news” heading they had stories about building your own workout rooms, baby names and now the all important NHL All-Star weekend activities. I guarantee there are more newsworthy things going on in metro Atlanta (one might even say the world). Truely, their goal is to have some words to wrap around the ads. Nevertheless, as a business strategy this may be sound because, let’s face it, newspapers ain’t the future. Fundementally, they were built as vehicles for the latest daily news — and now their as stale as stone tablets.
    As for reporters who actually give a damn about their work, it is not a terribly gratifying situation. BKreporter, I suggest you apply there because your salary goals are attainable — but I wouldn’t wipe my butt with that paper. Nor most others these days.

  5. Scot Says:

    Hey, after 17 years as a stringer in central PA, my own observation is that management at newspapers do their best to burn the bridges behind them. As a way to protect myself, I went back to school to finally get a degree- only to learn that the field I love may be gone by the time I graduate…

    On top of that, I found that attitude reflected in the student newspaper and the administration of the university I attend. Students do not receive any credits for their work on the paper, and it’s in a downward spiral. Even the editor has lost heart.

    I agree with Newspapers Suck about the way management is driving the business into extinction.

    Sad. So sad.

  6. Newspapers suck Says:

    The journalism education establishment is another problem. I attented a well-regarded school for my undergrad. What happened there — as I suspect happens at other schools — is the student journos bust their humps putting the paper out each day. This is noble and important work, however, it generally comes at the expense of time spent studying and in class. The latter is more important. That, and journalism classes tend to emphasize elementary writing/editing skills that are not exactly cutting-edge. So the value of a journalism education is limited and most journalists actually don’t know anything about the stories they report/edit from any formal educational setting. This is a problem.

    The journalism of the future requires educated specialists. People who have studied politics, law, econ, finance — and, gasp! — computer science, math and engineering. Most journalists I know are actually proud of their ARETHMETICAL ignorance (let alone MATHEMATICAL), and the industry culture revels in this, except perhaps for the business pages (which are being eliminated fastest of all). But of course you’d have to pay these folks, there’s no money, blah, blah.

    I say burn it all and start anew. Google, yahoo!, and the likes will eventually figure out a new model. Hopefully. By then the Cox’ family will have sold their worthless holdings, and someone can actually present relevant and important information to the Atlanta readers. But the old system is broken beyond repair.

  7. Simon Says:

    Re: Newspapers suck

    I agree somewhat, though I’m not so sure that we should start requiring that journalists get specialized degrees — I mean it’s definitely a plus, but I think there are probably easier ways to gather and understand information.

    I think that the main issue in terms of the fall fo the newspaper industries is that they’re panicking, they’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater by doing all these layoffs, when instead they should try to wait it out and figure a new way of bringing in revenue.

    I mean, I have like 50 ideas for bringing in additional revenue, many of which are already being implemented by blogs. the only difference is that as the sole editor of this blog, I can execute an idea much quicker than a daily paper that has a bureaucracy.

    Maybe that’s the big advantage that blogs have — the fact that we can constantly watch our stats and technorati links and move quickly with the tide, we’re a bunch of speedboats weaving in and out of these giant tankers.

  8. Newspapers suck Says:

    I guess you don’t need a finance degree to be a business reporter, but it wouldn’t hurt. Well, only in the sense that you’d be wasting a perfectly good finance degree.

    I think one of the reasons that the current system is doomed to fail is based upon my own experience covering a large, complex local government in metro Atlanta. Policy makers tend to evaluate data and newspaper reporters write stories. So there tends to be a structural between what the reporter writes and the outcome of a dynamic decision-making process. Now, journalists like to think they appeal to a mass educated audience, and journalists also like to think themselves very clever. But as our society becomes more educated, the readers, too, want to make their decisions based upon the data. Rather than appear clever, journalists continue present their compound ingorance because there are no (or few) contemporary reporting structures to allow readers to evaluate usefully-reported data other than the conflict-driven narrative.

    If you asked an editor for the ability to present to readers even an elementary Excel or Access application — you get the equivalent of the look that pig gives sitting in the cockpit of the space shuttle. The ignorant, uneducated people that run newspapers (and those at the managing editor, metro editor, and line editor level) are dinosaurs — and they must get out of way (fired!) for the industry to thrive.

  9. Says:

    holla, Newspapers Suck! I’m in the ATL, too, and would love to buy you a drink for this screed. Look me up!

  10. Newspapers suck Says:

    laura… I see you worked at CL. As much of a steaming pile of crap that the Junkster-Composte has become, CL has really gone off a cliff. I used to enjoy reading one or two punchy stories about local issues, but now all that’s left is top ten lists of tatoo parlors. I see Sugg has left to start a journo thinktank — ha! good luck with that…

    I’m glad some folks out there still have enthusiasm for the biz, but I’m so jaded and bitter about my experience in a “profession” that once I loved that wouldn’t touch it with a 20-foot pica pole. The thought of working with pompous ignortant pr*cks like Mr. “Bite Me” again makes me want to wretch. Well, slug him anyway. He is the embodiment of the sort of uneducated C-student who rises managerially in direct inverse proportion to the quality of journalism. Maybe I’ll see you at the Yacht Club.

  11. darleene Says:

    I keep telling my friends who are disenchanted with their newspaper jobs…..get online (or get into broadcast). I ended up kind of in both.

    But then again, I was into online a LONG time ago. I’ve always been a kind of online evangelist.

  12. Mark Van Patten Says:

    In my 35 year experience, many news people have other signs of stress: alcoholism and/or divorce. Please suggest that Reinhardy look into these indicators.

  13. americangoy Says:

    Very good blog!

    Apocryphal story from my days at university:
    Talked to two women journalism study students (journalism and teaching majors were 99% women there) and they, together, laid into me how business students have it easy and are recruited off the campus while they, the journalism students, had to fight tooth and nail for the interviews.

    It got so bad that a Weiner Mobile (yes, Oscar Meyer Weiner car, the one that looks like a hot dog) application was posted in the School of Journalism for drivers of said vehicle.

    One girl went on a diatribe on how it was terrible, and that no one would apply for that sh***y job if they had any honor, brains, smarts, while the other girl just hung her head and kept quiet.

    We both looked at the quiet girl and then the terrible truth about an application for the Weiner Mobile came out…

  14. Fiona Lowther Says:

    Remaining in today’s journalism “business” (it’s not a news business) is like staying with an abusive spouse — one remembers the early days of one’s love of the job/marriage, and keeps thinking, hoping and praying that it’ll get better.

    But it’s like the greeeting card that says, “Cheer up; things could be worse.” And inside the card, it says, “So I cheered up — and things got worse.”

    The reporters of the Golden Age of Journalism were Liberal Arts alumni (there weren’t even any J schools in the good Old Days); and they had something horribly lacking in 98% of today’s J School graduate: curiosity.

    They can’t spell and don’t know — or care about — grammar; they don’t know history, geography, basic math, of who their federal or state representative is. And what’s worse, they don’t care. All they care about is getting their byline on page one, and their paycheck at the end of the week.

    And don’t even get me started on the top brass; they’re running the newspapers, all right – right into the ground.

  15. editrrr Says:

    Hello and kudos to all commenters for their solid points. I’m a lifelong news brat, son of a reporter-turned-editor-turned-owner/publisher who was studying my Dad’s API material when I was 16. After 20 years in the biz, I couldn’t brook the feeling that I was pouring my soul into the downside of the bell curve of the profession I love. It took those last four years of extreme discomfort and sense of impending doom before I quit the relationship cold turkey; I’d seen too much talent leave, and what remained was a collage of personality disorders of varying degrees (social isolation, rocky or zero relationships, learned helplessness). Senior management? Sad but true to say, they protected their jobs and their favorite employees and “reimagined” the newsroom with a U desk and cheaper labor. Print and online innovations my colleagues and I had suggested for years gradually found their way into being a) without acknowledgement of our initiative and b) without the finesse and passion of well-thought-out ideas, but rather as rushed-out and reactionary stopgap measures. Since I turned away from the career I loved in late 2005, newspapers (as we all know) have taken turns that are simply appalling (INVESTORS own the Strib and the Inky!). And to this day, I see hideously insulting ads like this one … 10 jobs for the price of one ( The moment may truly be passed where journalists can argue profession status and keep getting lumped in with low-wage tradespeople. I’m truly hoping Murdoch’s WSJ and Zell’s Tribune can bring some sense back into the equation, Would I go back? When papers go back to being P.M.s! Now, I work for a wonderfully savvy, humane publisher and live the life of the “normal” people I once (somewhat) playfully mocked. It’s brain drain like this that’s going to doom our national dialogue … not that the bulk of the population notices or cares enough to demand better.

  16. Douglas Perret Starr Says:

    I was an Associated Press newsman for 13 years, covering government, politics, and desegregation (mainly) in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida. My work day was from early to late, many times 14, 16 hours and multiple cups of coffee. Situation beyond my control forced me to leave. I still miss it.

  17. melting Says:

    Fresh out of school, I have obtained a job at a daily.
    I can truly say that I am very disillusioned.

    Why didn’t they tell me it would be like this when I was in J-school?
    I am only weeks into the job and I am already working late and doing work from home – topping 10 hours a day usually. I do some work on the weekends as well.

    I had no idea how much a journalist should make, mostly because they didn’t teach me that in J-school either, so now I’m certain I’m underpaid and overworked.
    After my probation, that is, if I don’t get fired or quit by then, my salary will be about 27K a year.

    Weeks in and I already feel over-worked. Weeks in and I am seriously considering quitting and going into technical writing or getting a job at the grocery store.
    I’d rather have someone pushing me to put eggs in a separate bag than to get four photos, file two stories and do five briefs in a day. Okay, I don’t really want to work at a grocery store, but I do want a chance to do good work. Whatever happened to quality over quantity?

    Oh, that’s right. It’s all because he can hire people like me who will destroy them selves to earn a living in an industry that keeps fighting to earn higher profits every year in an industry that is crumbling under the crushing blows of higher, more efficient forms of communication.
    I am the poster-child for cheap, new, expendable labour.

  18. Newspapers suck Says:

    You’ve picked up on it — people like you have to quit. Walk away, get out before you’re consumed with bitterness. Or decide this truly what fulfills your professional aspirations.
    My belief is that one’s first responsibility is to secure a decent life for oneself (and family), obtain value for a degree, and not to fight this losing battle with a bunch of idiots who don’t care. Or, obtain for yourself cutting-edge skills and re-enter the journalism jobs market. They will pay for people with skills in online media. Maybe. Soon those skills will be widely spread through the market and then we’ll be right back where we started.
    I was hired by top 20 paper right out of school, had a good salary, benefits and even obtained a master’s while working on the company dime. Ultimately the work was just so pointless, the people in charge such idiots, with no incentives to innovate, and the opportunities to “commit journalism” too few and far between.
    Screw it — get a “real job,” work hard, make money. Don’t continue to make yourself the butt of this newspaper joke.

  19. Yovanna Says:

    Oh my gosh!!! I’ve found a forum for what I’m feeling! I’ve been a reporter for a weekly paper for the past eight years and I’m so burned out I’m starring blankly at my screen right now as I’m forcing myself to crank out calendars and briefs and stories. AAAAYAAAAHAHAHHHHHHH. I would say to anyone considering a career in the newspaper field to STOP…turnaround and run far far from it. After eight years with the same paper I only barely make $30k a year in the Bay Area…which is nowhere near enough to live on (thankfully I’m married and have a husband who earns more than twice what I do). It’s a sucky industry that’s profit rather than people driven. The higher-ups don’t give a crap about their reporters but bend over backwards for the sales department….folks who make twice what I do (no offense to sales folks…but I don’t think it’s fair). Anywho…I’m dissallusioned (can’t spell I’m so annoyed) and burned out and frustrated too because I can’t find any other jobs in my area. I want out, but there’s nothing to go to. PR agencies here don’t want journalists…go figure?! Who better to know how to get a company publicity than a former journalist right? I’m about ready to work for Starbucks as a barista…if only they paid more. *sigh* *sob*

  20. Yovanna Says:

    A word about online. For anyone entering newspaper journalism, be aware of the enormous movement to online journalism. Our company (An NYT paper) is pushing for online first …that means stories break online rather than the paper. With our small staff, we’re expected to run a fast moving up to the minute news site while cranking out a paper. What does that mean? Loads of extra hours (but we’re not allowed to work overtime …so you have to take time off in lieu of it…even though you can’t really do that because it cuts into the time you have left for writing stories.) There’s no hiring of people to help….just using interns…when we have them. And no real pay raises to help with morale. All of us in the newsroom are being trained to work video cameras, video edit, post videos and photo galleries to the Web, post stories to the web, etc… in addition to our newspaper duties. It’s an insane work load.

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