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Home > Publications > Quill > Beating burnout


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Thursday, May 1, 2008
Beating burnout

Aiesha D. Little

A friend recently told me he was looking into jobs at smaller weeklies. He started interning with his current employer, a mid-sized daily newspaper in the Northeast, during his senior year in college and was hired full-time right after graduation. After eight years with the paper, he’s covered everything from cops and courts to town- and village- council meetings, but his enthusiasm for what he does is virtually nonexistent.

“I’m burned out,” he said with the heavy sigh of a grizzled veteran. He turned 30 last fall.

Sadly, despite his age, he’s not alone. The results of a recent study of nearly 800 journalists across the country found that 34 percent of its youngest respondents (34 and younger) answered “yes” when asked if they had plans to leave the business; 43.5 percent of the same age group answered “don’t know.” It also found that the most “at-risk” population in newsrooms are “young copy editors or page designers working at small newspapers.” If the study is correct in its assessment of current attitudes toward work, Gen J-aged journalists will start leaving the field in droves in a few years.

After conducting a survey of sports journalists in 2004, Ball State University professor Scott Reinardy widened the research field to include all newsroom employees and says that several issues have led to the results he found, stress topping the list.

But more than likely, he said, burnout has to do with the younger generation’s “hardwiring.”

“They are willing to work but not as willing to sacrifice as much time with friends and family,” said Reinardy, who spent 18 years as a sports reporter for five different daily papers before switching to teaching. “They want to be homeowners and have families, but not at the same social costs that was required of their parents.”

Mariella Foster, 31, would agree. She left her job as an editorial assistant for The Dayton Daily News after one year and hasn’t looked back. She says the salary was the No. 1 reason for her departure/

“The pay was horrible. I was getting $7 an hour. I couldn’t afford to pay my bills.”

But the dues-paying aspect of the job also made it intolerable.

“I was told that I would have to go through the ranks before I landed a reporter job and that that could take a while,” said Foster, who ended up doing social work after leaving the field. “I knew I wanted a family and stability, so that didn’t sound too great to me. I didn’t want to be 40 before the fruits of my labor paid off.”

Along with stress comes a certain amount of dissatisfaction. With the Web playing an increasingly crucial role in the daily delivery of news, younger journalists — those who grew up online — may not enjoy the confines of traditional media outlets, like newspapers and magazines.

Members of the Gen J crowd “are entrepreneurial yet require guidance to get started, but won’t necessarily ask for that guidance,” Reinardy said. “It’s neither good nor bad, just different, and managers will have to make adjustments.”

So is there truly a way to beat burnout?

“Researchers have determined that there is no cure,” Reinardy said. “When exhaustion sets in, it eventually turns to cynicism, and then personal efficacy diminishes. While burnout might be tempered with a salary increase or a vacation, those remedies are short-lived.”

Some may be unsure about continuing their pursuit of careers in journalism, but a whole new crop of talent is ready and willing to take over. Terron Austin, 22, editorial assistant/style writer at a Gannett young-reader publication, CinWeekly, said he wants to work full time. “I want to get out there and do what I’ve been learning.”

Although he’s a full-time journalism student at the University of Cincinnati, Austin is already working nearly 40 hours a week in addition to being president of the UC Association of Black Journalists. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I don’t feel like I would ever leave the business in its entirety,” he said. “I’m just that passionate about it. It’s too important to me.”

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