Stayers and Leavers Report

"Stayers and Leavers Report" table of contents

  1. Stayers and Leavers Report
  2. Who answered the survey
  3. Motivations for staying/leaving
  4. Pay is important to current and former local journalists
  5. Work and journalism
  6. Feelings about the future of journalism/sustainable career paths in journalism
  7. Conclusion for Stayers and Leavers Report

CISLM’s Stayers and Leavers report finds that journalists feel a calling to do the work, but struggle to craft a path toward long-term career advancement, including work-life balance and sustainable pay.

Stayers and Leavers Report: Analyzing Career Trajectories in Local Journalism

Elizabeth Thompson, Local News Researcher
Clay Williams, Graduate Student Researcher

Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media
Hussman School of Journalism and Media
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Local journalists enter the field motivated to serve communities and tell stories but struggle to forge a path for long-term career advancement that includes work-life balance and sustainable pay, according to a survey that asked more than 600 current and former local journalists about their careers.

Both people who left and those who remain in the field reported worry about the future of local news and concern about stagnant wages, despite their enthusiasm for in-the-field interactions, holding power to account and learning something new every day.

Journalism has long been known as a demanding profession that pushes workers to perform at high levels in often challenging circumstances and for long hours. The past two decades have only compounded that pressure as deteriorating economic conditions have led to hosts of layoffs and consolidating of job duties with stagnant pay.

A recent study from the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media found that local journalists are also grappling with high levels of burnout. In that report, 70 percent of respondents said they experienced work-related burnout.

There is no local journalism without local journalists.

Research on those who leave careers in journalism points to low wages, mental health struggles and feelings that there is not a future for the field as reasons for exit. The Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media found that local journalists are also grappling with high levels of burnout. That report found that the most common response when respondents were asked about what would keep them from leaving their current job was higher pay.

This report, based on a survey fielded by CISLM from Jan. 22, 2024 and Feb. 16, 2024, aimed to identify the reasons why people enter, then stay in or leave local journalism.

Some highlights from the Stayers and Leavers report:

  • Journalists working 31-40 hours per week show a higher retention rate (24%) in the profession compared to those leaving (14%). Those working 51-60 hours per week exhibited a higher attrition rate, with 24% leaving and 15% staying, suggesting that longer working hours may be associated with higher attrition rates in journalism.
  • The median respondent worked in local journalism for a median of 9 years.
  • Better pay and work-life balance were major themes that emerged when respondents were asked what a sustainable career in local journalism would look like.
  • Among outlets with a union, a higher percentage of journalists stayed in the field compared to those who remained.
  • On average, journalists in our sample earned a yearly salary of $67,689, with a median of $60,000.
  • Of those who left local journalism, 39% left local journalism for a job outside of journalism and 14% were either laid off, fired or took a buyout. The most popular fields for jobs outside of journalism were public relations, communications, marketing and higher education.
  • A majority of our respondents (79%) reported experiencing work-related burnout. Nearly half (47%) experienced source-related burnout, followed by 43% of our experiencing personal burnout.
  • Half of our respondents reported experiencing online harassment at various frequencies.
  • Work-life balance (78%) had the most impact on how respondents saw their jobs, followed by layoffs at their organization (77%), industry layoffs (69%) and attacks on the press (53%).

Next chapter

"Stayers and Leavers Report" table of contents

  1. Stayers and Leavers Report
  2. Who answered the survey
  3. Motivations for staying/leaving
  4. Pay is important to current and former local journalists
  5. Work and journalism
  6. Feelings about the future of journalism/sustainable career paths in journalism
  7. Conclusion for Stayers and Leavers Report