Everybody hurts: 10 reasons journalists can have morale problems

Non-journalists are often surprised to learn that working in journalism is not all excitement, fun and a deep sense of fulfillment.  Working in television and digital news as I do, I find myself explaining that one of the biggest issues facing leaders is morale–and it’s one that often gets short shrift in the fast-paced, intense daily flow of work.


As many corporations have learned, a workforce of frustrated, frightened and angry employees is bad for productivity. There’s a reason new companies place a high premium on workplace amenities, generous benefits and opportunities for training and growth.

So why are so many journalists bummed out?

1. We are constantly finding out disturbing information about human nature.

2. That ever-present, sneaking feeling that you just missed a very important story/scoop.

3. Highly competitive. Journalists are constantly sizing themselves up against the news operation “across the street” as well as against their own co-workers. This is a losing game, but we can’t resist playing it.


4. Change. New technology, new platforms, new economic realities. It’s all scary.

5. With great responsibility and public presence come outsized egos. And, the flip-side is deep insecurity.

6. One minute you’re winning, the next you are down in the cellar.

A recent study looked at how constantly monitoring performance via metrics affects newsroom morale. No surprise, it found that simply checking how individual digital stories performed–or looking at daily television ratings–can be either be a huge downer or a massive upper–and both outcomes offer distortion that can feed into insecurity and frustration. MORE Study: Metrics have ‘powerful influence’ on journalists’ morale

7. Work-life balance. Say what?

8. Money. Unless you are a network anchor who writes a best-seller and marries money, you are unlikely to be rich. You will work very hard for long hours.

9. Love and hate from the public. When we give voice to the voiceless, expose the baddies and hold the powerful accountable we are heroes. When mess up, everyone knows and won’t let us forget it.

10. Bosses who just don’t get it.

Believe it or not, journalists are not always the best leaders! We tend to be impatient, cynical, skeptical and highly motivated by individual achievement. The qualities that make a reporter, producer or other newsie great at news gathering can make us terrible as managers. Recommended: What Great Bosses Know (podcasts)

As a newsroom leader myself, I find one of the toughest challenges is distinguishing between individual and organizational angst: There are people who have personal or professional problems unique to them, no matter where they happen to be working. Then are also low morale themes that permeate and fester. Tackling morale problems effectively requires leaders to correctly diagnose before taking action.

So why to we do it?

Remember that excitement, fun and a deep sense of fulfillment I mentioned earlier? It does exist! Also, we love being in the know and on the front lines of life.

There is no formula for all of this. But, we know listening and hearing are vital. We know that walking the talk speaks volumes.  Suggestions welcome!



3 thoughts on “Everybody hurts: 10 reasons journalists can have morale problems

Add yours

  1. Thank you for the wonderful article.

    As a journalist, I’ve heard many gripes but one of the largest is a lack of enthusiasm for the job itself.

    You find yourself standing in the rain at 3 am to hear from the police on a domestic turned homicide. For the umpteenth time, your baking in the news van, with its barely working AC, so you can do a liveshot near a community pool on how people are “beating the heat.” You strain to meet your mandatory social media quota to appear more multimedia-savy. You do all this and wonder, “Is this even going to matter?”

    Many journalists I’ve spoken with came in with real aspirations of making a difference. Among the burnt-out and the jaded, you see how their morale has been crushed. Its now just a paycheck.

    I’m not naive but I do believe that when news organizations became nothing more than ambulance chasers and pop culture aggregators, you will see sharp declines in moral (of journalists AND audience). We must strive for reporting that truly creates a better informed public. When I taught grade school history, I never cared if they knew the how of events but the why. Now teaching journalism, I instruct my students to tell redemptive stories. Find what is beneficial for the public in the story and say that. Don’t just tell me how the homicide happened, focus on the why. Why is someone dead? Why does it keep happening? What is being done about it?

    Journalists want to care for their communities and studies show communities react positively to this. How would the dynamic of the newsroom change if news organizations were ran more like a non-profit than a corporation? Could journalists really be satisfied with an approach like that? Not only do I believe so but studies even show charity workers to have higher job satisfaction. I am not proposing we all work for free but that we could all be happier if we were allowed to inform our audiences rather than entertain them.

    Twitter: @xtiannetizen
    Blog: xtiannetizen.wordpress.com

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