Burnout and bailout: occupational hazard?

Dateline: Thu 07 Feb 2008

A reader and former Star reporter has sent an interesting piece by blogger Simon Owens on burnout in the craft.


Owens tracked down a former sports editor/reporter, Scott Reinardy, now a professor at Ball State University, who polled 770 journalists around the nation about whether their age, job title and circulation of their newspaper affected burnout.

Sez Owens:

"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."

Reinardy, 43, worked 15 years in journalism at five dailies. Owens also reports that the Center for Disease Control in 2005 listed journalism as No. 7 among the jobs with the highest burnout.

Correct me if I am wrong, but in my experience -- and this is generational, 1960s-era papers talking here -- we saw journalism as a holy grail and a calling. People went into it not for money or great hours but to be a part of something bigger: to sit on the sidelines, watch, ask questions about the process and then WRITE STORIES about what was happening in the world.

Frankly, burnout was a factor; plenty of people drank too much, smoked too much and in general grew to be cynical (but lovable) louts. What made all the pain bearable, in my memory, was good leadership. There at the top of the food chain was an editor in whom one believed: a person of integrity and rare guts, urging the rank and file on, asking the harder questions. Those were the people who kept us motivated.

Those are the people who, largely, have been driven out. Hence today's burnout must be the third-degree variety: very painful, infectious and possibly fatal, unless one escapes in a timely fashion.

Or, the industry wakes up and brings back credible leadership.


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