How we can help journalists prevent burnout

For the majority of my career, I have worked with journalism students and helped send them off into the world. Nothing felt so wonderful as when they’d come back to visit or send me clips, and I’d see how they were thriving and transforming an industry that certainly needed change. The flip side was watching them feel worn down and overworked in newsrooms that were giving young journalists bigger and more high-profile jobs than ever – but in shrunken organizations with less support.

Erica Perel,
CISLM Director |

At the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media, we consider journalists a stakeholder group in building a more sustainable and equitable future for local news – distinct from the journalism organizations that employ them. And there’s been a lot of downward pressure on journalists over the last 15 years – to “do more with less,” to “pivot” to changing technologies, business models and reader habits, to be both an employee and a personal brand. Meanwhile, pay has not kept up with inflation, and then, well, the pandemic.

This week, the Center’s research team is publishing a research report on a survey that administered a well-known “burnout inventory” to local journalists across America.

The results are sobering, if not unexpected:

  • Approximately 70% of journalists surveyed experienced personal and work-related burnout.
  • Less than half as many journalists experienced source-related burnout (31%) as experienced personal or work-related burnout.
  • Journalists under the age of 45 experienced more burnout than journalists over 45.
  • Women and non-binary journalists experienced greater burnout than journalists identifying as men.
  • Nearly three-quarters (72%) of respondents said they had thought about leaving their current job.
  • The most common response when respondents were asked what would keep them in their current job was higher pay (39%).

An area of hope: The survey showed that journalists are not experiencing high levels of burnout related to dealing with sources; that is, reporting. This makes some sense. In my reporter days, a rough week could be balanced by an in-the-field interview with a source who was helping their community, was an expert in something interesting or was just a cool person who I’d never have met otherwise. I would leave those interviews profoundly grateful for the freedom and intellectual stimulation of my job.

This suggests to me that managers should help journalists spend more of their time reporting from the communities they cover. Better pay and more stable newsrooms are also needed, without doubt, but I would hope giving them the support and capacity to do their most meaningful work should ease working conditions, improve the journalism and strengthen communities.