Five Reasons Why Journalists Lead Miserable Lives

When I worked as a media relations officer several years ago, an old boss of mine used to walk around the office grumbling that “journalists are miserable people leading miserable lives.” (She usually said that after a reporter turned down one of her story ideas.)

That’s an over-statement, of course, but she was on to something. Reporters face more pressures than ever before, and it’s no wonder that many of them are exhausted, overly-stressed, unresponsive, and curt.

This article will look at five reasons reporters lead “miserable” lives – and what you can do to make their lives easier.

1. They Have No Time

Journalists have never faced more bruising deadlines. Newspaper reporters who once had to write one story per day now have to update the story for their paper’s website continually. Their broadcast counterparts now have to produce separate web-only versions of their radio and television segments throughout the day and promote them via social media.

How You Can Help: Respond to their requests quickly, get them the information they need well before their deadlines, and speak in media-friendly sound bites that don’t require a translator.

2. They’re Doing The Job of Three People

Many reporters are doing the jobs of two or three people, since odds are that their news organizations have laid off several of their colleagues.

How You Can Help: Many journalists appreciate it if you perform some of the tasks one of their fired colleagues once did. In an age of fewer graphic editors and staff photographers, for example, you can help by sending high-quality charts, photos, and videos that require little editing.

3. They Have No Space

Journalists regularly have to edit complicated stories down to 200 words or two minutes. This has always been true, but the trend toward even shorter pieces is continuing to accelerate.

How You Can Help: Don’t drown reporters with pages of “helpful” background information if they’re on a tight deadline. Prioritize the information instead. Provide them with only the most important information they need to file the story, and make sure it answers the who, what, when, where, why, and how.

4. They Have to Be Profitable

Many journalists get into the business thinking they’re providing a critical public service. They often do, but they also have to tell stories that attract an audience, allowing their news organizations to maintain or raise their advertising rates. Even “pure” journalists have to get their hands dirty – former ABC News Ted Koppel used to say that Nightline covered the O.J. Simpson case (which generated strong ratings) so it could cover more important international stories (which did not).

How You Can Help: Conflict sells. If your story has some built-in controversy, don’t be afraid to offer a strongly-worded sound bite (as long as doing so is a strategic choice that helps accomplish your media goals). 

5. They Don’t Make Much Money

Why do journalists lead miserable lives? Because they have to put up with all of the challenges described above – and get paid poorly for their efforts. Sure, Matt Lauer makes a cool $16 million per year. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wages of reporters and correspondents were $34,850 in May 2008.

How You Can Help: Offer them a cash bribe. I’m kidding, of course. Instead, recognize the pressures they operate under – and do everything you can to be a helpful source.

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