Local media burnout report (page 5)

Changes and leaving journalism

In addition to burnout, we asked journalists to share if they had thought about leaving their job, were actively looking for a new job and if they were thinking about leaving the news industry. Respondents were also asked what changes would make them want to stay in their current position.

Leaving journalism

When asked if they ever thought about leaving their job, 72% of respondents said yes. This is a higher percentage than reported by a recent workforce survey by LinkedIn, which found that 61% of U.S. workers were considering leaving their jobs in 2023.

Journalists experiencing high levels of work-related burnout are more likely to consider leaving their job than those experiencing low levels of work-related burnout. Of those experiencing high levels of work-related burnout, 80% say they have thought about leaving their job. In contrast, only about half (53%) of journalists experiencing lower levels of burnout say they have.

Similarly, 79% of journalists experiencing high levels of personal burnout said they were considering leaving their job, compared to 53% of those not experiencing personal burnout.

Most (85%) journalists experiencing source-related burnout have thought about leaving their job, compared to 66% of journalists who did not experience source-related burnout.

Of respondents who said they were thinking about leaving their jobs, 41% said they were actively looking for new jobs. Of these respondents who were looking for new jobs, 56% reported that they were considering leaving the journalism industry entirely. Previous studies found that younger journalists reported both higher rates of burnout and higher intentions to leave the industry. This study was not able to corroborate those findings due to the low number of respondents (88) who said they were looking for jobs outside of journalism.

Changes for a more sustainable future

The original Danish study using the Copenhagen Burnout Inventory found that work-related burnout levels changed substantially over time, suggesting that changes in organizational structure could be a factor in work-related burnout changing.

We asked respondents what would make them stay at their current job: higher pay, fewer hours, more support from newsroom leadership, set working hours for a better work/life balance, more time off, comp time/money for extra hours worked, better insurance or other.

The most common response (39%) was higher pay. Previous research from CISLM found that more than 40% of local journalists who responded to a survey in North Carolina earned less than $50,000 per year, which is the approximate threshold of the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center’s Living Income Standard for one adult and one child.

Following higher pay, the second and third most selected options were more support from newsroom leadership (19%) and set working hours for a better work/life balance (9%).

In this question, almost one-fifth (18%) of respondents selected “Other” and wrote in different changes that would make them stay in their current positions. Several of those respondents wrote in “all of the above” or listed multiple responses. Some respondents said “none.”

Multiple respondents wrote in various recommendations involving adding staff or reducing expectations for staff to do too much.

One respondent said “pay would be a step forward, but respect for our job would go a long way. Nobody feels appreciated in a newsroom.”

Another respondent listed “realistic expectations” as something that would keep them in their current job, in addition to higher pay, more support from newsroom leadership and change in management.

U.S. newsroom employment has fallen 26% since 2008. As local news organizations continue to close and consolidate, local journalists are now faced with an increased workload with longer and more irregular hours, while their incomes have also decreased.

There was also a theme among respondents who wrote in responses for there to be less of an emphasis on creating content or increasing page views. Other respondents emphasized that they did not feel valued or respected by the owners of their outlet.

This survey was conducted from February to March of 2023, a turbulent time for local news, when layoffs were rampant, especially at large brands like Gannett, which cut about 6% of its media division at the end of 2022.

One respondent wrote that “[e]motional exhaustion is a strawman for the real, physical, mental and spiritual exhaustion of churning out ‘news’ at an unsustainable rate.”

Limitations and Recommendations for Future Research

A limitation of this study was the diversity of survey respondents. Respondents were recruited by scraping email addresses from the Twitter bios of local journalists across all 50 states in the United States. It is possible that some journalists may or may not feel more comfortable sharing their contact information based on their age, race, gender or some other factors. This recruitment method may have also limited the number of responses we got from people who were not reporters.

Online surveys may not be the best way to study the experiences of people of color. Qualitative interviews are a method that may build trust and be more effective.

Twitter bios were scraped from November 2022 to January 2023, around the time Elon Musk became CEO of Twitter. Initial estimates indicate up to a million users deactivating accounts or having their accounts suspended, a 208% increase in account losses compared to before Musk’s takeover.

Future research on burnout among journalists using the Copenhagen Burnout Inventory should examine whether or not journalists experience burnout in relation to audiences. In our study, we opted to measure source-related burnout. However, journalists engage with and produce content for public audiences as well. Future research could examine and even compare burnout as related to sources and audiences.

Future research could also use larger, more encompassing beat categories, such as the critical information needs categories, to better understand burnout by beat and journalists who specifically cover crisis and trauma, as this is an understudied aspect of burnout in journalism.

This study only touches on potential solutions for keeping journalists in their jobs, but further research could seek to understand why people choose to stay in further detail.

Next chapter

"Local media burnout report" table of contents

  1. Local media burnout report
  2. Who responded?
  3. Burnout in U.S. local journalists
  4. Burnout demographics
  5. Changes and leaving journalism
  6. Conclusion
  7. Appendix: Method