"Local media burnout report" table of contents
Beyond the Breaking News: Exploring Burnout, Turnover Intention and Solutions for Sustainability in Local Media
Elizabeth Thompson, Local News Researcher
Katelyn Chedraoui, Undergraduate Student Researcher
Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media,
UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media
This page was published 4/28/23
The journalists who power America’s struggling local news operations are experiencing burnout and considering leaving their jobs at high rates, according to results of a survey of more than 500 local journalists by the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media.
Burnout is the psychological response to chronic work-related conditions that affects both mental and physical health.
The 2023 survey was conducted after more than a decade of layoffs, consolidation and change in the local news industry, and three years after the COVID-19 pandemic wrought dramatic changes to working conditions and brought workforce burnout into the national conversation. The results highlight a looming human resources crisis for news organizations that have leaned on employees to perform throughout the industry’s well documented revenue and audience declines.
During these tumultuous years, journalists often have had to juggle an increased workload with longer, more irregular hours, while their incomes have also decreased. Continuing turbulent economic conditions lead to a host of layoffs in 2022-2023, including in national outlets like NPR, Vox and CNN, as well as in local and regional Gannett-owned newsrooms.
The survey found that 72% of local journalists surveyed experienced personal burnout and 70% experienced work-related burnout. Women and young people were more likely to experience burnout than men and older people, echoing prior research in burnout among journalists.
Outside of the media industry, there is a trend of declining mental health and burnout for all U.S. workers. The 2022 Aflac WorkForces Report asked respondents across multiple industry sectors to rate their levels of burnout and found that 59% of American workers were experiencing at least moderate levels of burnout.
Burnout in journalism is not a new phenomenon. A study from 1999 in the Columbia Journalism Review found that journalists with high standards for quality are also at risk for burnout, as the journalism environment continues to provide them with fewer resources, such as reduced staffing and budget. A 1993 study found that reporters at small news outlets are more likely to have multiple job assignments, which is associated with higher levels of burnout, compared to reporters at larger news outlets who likely have more structure.
Factors such as low pay, pressure to meet high standards, meeting deadlines and adapting to new technology contributed to journalist stress and burnout.
Research on media burnout in the age of digital news found that journalists working at smaller newspapers tended to show greater levels of emotional exhaustion than those who work at larger newspapers. One study found that journalists with strong intention to leave the industry scored significantly higher on the exhaustion and cynicism subscales of the Maslach Burnout Inventory, a mechanism for measuring burnout, and low on the professional efficacy scale.
In addition to everyday work stress, a predictor for burnout might be long-term exposure to working with trauma victims. Journalists can be impacted by working in distressing situations. Past psychological research of journalists has largely focused on their reaction to exposure to potentially traumatizing events, such as being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression or altered world assumptions. However, there is little research about the connection between burnout and crisis-related assignments.
Employee burnout is a problem for employers; previous research found that burnout affects job performance. This is a concern for journalists, whose work is not only in the public eye but also guides public attitudes and perspectives. Previous journalism research has also found a statistical relationship between high burnout and low job satisfaction. Another previous study of South Korean journalists found that burnout was a key factor in employee turnover.
Copenhagen Burnout Inventory
We used the Copenhagen Burnout Inventory to measure burnout across three dimensions: personal, work-related and source-related. Examples of questions asked include how often respondents felt tired, if they were frustrated by their work and if working with sources felt draining.
In addition to questions from the Copenhagen Burnout Inventory, journalists were asked additional information about their jobs, the type of role their position was (news production, audience engagement, management, etc.), whether they wanted to leave their jobs and/or journalism, as well as demographic information.
Some highlights from this report:
- 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%).