Newsroom Stress: Survey on Work/Life Issues Finds Cause for Concern

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By: Brian Orloff

A new Poynter Institute survey about working journalists’ work/life balance shows that young journalists, women, and minorities are most likely to leave the profession because of long hours, high job pressure, missed vacation opportunities, and staff cuts.

But the 750 respondents to Jill Geisler’s survey are not entirely dismayed with journalism. Results do report high levels of satisfaction with the work of journalism, but Geisler’s report suggests ways in which newsrooms — especially managers — can shape up and improve what respondents suggest are problems with their current work/life balance.

The final survey was sent to 4,345 journalists, so 750 responses indicated a 17 percent response rate. Geisler stresses the unscientific nature of the survey, but says that results — which were analyzed by race, gender, age, and seniority, among other factors — are illuminating.

Among the key issues involved in decisions to leave journalism, about 2 in 3 respondents reported working more than 40 hours a week, which impacts their personal time and life outside of the office. Almost half say they did not use up all their vacation time in the past year. Staff shortages are also a factor; just over half said shortages “consistently” or “frequently” affect their personal lives.

The more alarming statistic: 47% have seriously considered leaving journalism. This was somewhat higher for those under 34, people of color and women.

On the “home” side, Geisler, who heads Poynter’s Leadership Group, found that 47% of women said gaining accommodations in their schedules for family commitments might cost them opportunities to advance. At the same time, 43% of managers and 38% of staff reported routinely taking home work.

Geisler reports that 55% of the respondents say that their organization “demonstrates some concern” about their work/life balance, though 22.9% report that their organization “demonstrates no concern.” Only 48% said they have a supportive supervisor.

While some survey results are disheartening, Geisler writes, there is an optimistic side. “Respondents still care about their work and still believe in its quality,” she revealed. Seven in 10 who responded said they are satisfied with their jobs and 73% said the quality of journalism in their organizations is fairly high.

Geisler concludes: “It appears the journalists and media leaders represented in our survey may see themselves as upholding the quality of a profession they care about, but the weight of that commitment is wearing on too many of them.”

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