Indiana University survey: journalists grow more negative about their work

Indiana University

U.S. journalists are more dissatisfied with their work, feel less autonomy in choosing their stories and are more likely to think the industry is headed in the wrong direction compared to a decade ago, according to the latest in a series of studies tapping into the zeitgeist of American newsrooms.

In a survey of 1,080 journalists last fall, Indiana University researchers found not surprisingly that 59.7 percent of those surveyed see journalism going in the wrong direction.

Asked what constitutes the most important problem facing the industry today, journalists mentioned declining profits (20.4 percent), threats to profession from online media (11.4 percent), job cuts and downsizing (11.2 percent), the need for a new business model and funding structure (10.8 percent), and hasty reporting (9.9 percent).

The study, “The American Journalist in a Digital Age,” provides some numbers on the deteriorating morale in the country’s newsrooms, following years of layoffs, declining revenues and the still-rocky transition into the digital age.

Except for a positive bump in 2002, job satisfaction has been declining since 1972, said the study’s authors, Professor Lars Willnat and Professor Emeritus David H. Weaver of the Indiana University School of Journalism:

Overall, about a quarter of U.S. journalists said they
were either somewhat (19.3 percent) or very (6.2
percent) dissatisfied with their jobs. This represents a
significant increase from 2002 when only 16.1 percent
said they were somewhat or very dissatisfied.

Job autonomy has also eroded; in 1971 and 1992, a majority of the journalists surveyed said they had almost complete freedom in selecting their stories. In 2013, only 33.6 percent felt that way.

Other findings show a shift in the demographic profile of journalists:

• Those surveyed are older on average than those interviewed in 2002. The median age of full-time journalists increased from 41 to 47 years of age.

• The percentage of women who hold journalism jobs increased to 37.5 percent from 33 percent in 2002 but still remains only about a third of all full-time journalism positions, little changed from the early 1980s. “This trend persists despite the fact that more women than ever are graduating from journalism schools,” the researchers said.

• The percentage of minority journalists decreased from 9.5 percent to 8.5 percent in 2013, well below the 36.6 percent minority representation in the overall U.S. population.

• Fewer journalists say they are Democrats or Republicans and more say they are Independents. Twenty-eight percent said they were Democrats, 7.1 percent Republican and about 50 percent identify themselves as Independents.

The gender pay gap persists, the researchers said. Women’s median salary, $44,342, was 83 percent that of men’s. The median salary for U.S. journalists overall rose to $50,028 (in 2012), a 12.9 percent increase since 2001, but the pay failed to keep up with inflation.

Over 62 percent of the journalists reported their newsroom staff had shrunk in the past year; 24.2 percent said their staffs remained level and 13.2 percent reported growth. Overall, the number of full-time journalists declined from 116,000 in 2002 to 83,000 in 2013, the authors said.

There were some positives in the study’s key findings: journalists are adopting social media; 40 percent said it is important to their work. A third reported spending 30 to 60 minutes per day on social networking sites and more than half “regularly use microblogs such as Twitter for gathering information and reporting their stories.”

A majority of those surveyed recognized that they need to up their game and said they would like additional training to adapt to new job requirements.

The largest group (30.5 percent) wanted training in video shooting and editing, 28.4 percent sought skills to improve social media engagement, 28.1 percent were interested in data journalism, 26.9 percent want to learn about documents and records, and 25.6 percent desire multimedia training.

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