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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Waaah. Yes, I understand they’re miserable and I understand why. Join the crowd, folks. Those complaints are essentially the same complaints of [insert just about any profession here], and you’re not unique. I agree we should all do what we can to make sure we’re not the cause of other people’s misery, but where’s the quid pro quo? What are members of the media doing to show some modicum of respect for the miseries the rest of us face? Not trying to be a jerk, but I’m fed up with all of the whining from EVERYONE, as if they’re the only person/group/organization/profession/culture that has problems and they deserve to be coddled because of it.
Thanks for adding your perspective. You’re probably right that a lot of professions are experiencing similar pains in the current economy. In an ideal world, the pain that journalists are feeling would help them relate to other people experiencing the problems of our economy. I know that many of my friends in broadcast journalism live in fear that their pink slips can come at any moment.
Great post, but I think there are larger issues at work than the five nuts-and-bolts items you’ve listed. I’ve never worked as a journalist, but I wonder if some of the issues facing the average reporter have to do with the craft of reporting vs. the business of the news media. Most reporters I know do the job because they are naturally curious and have an innate need to find “the truth.” Theirs is a noble ambition and one that we in a free society should applaud. That said, they work for private businesses that are governed by the laws of supply and demand. It’s too bad that the newspaper industry in particular has yet to find a way to “do well while doing good,” but that’s where we are. Many great beat reporters have lost their jobs due to downsizing, and as a PR pro, I sincerely miss their institutional knowledge. It’s no fun explaining the same story over and over or losing out on sure-fire hit due to lack of space and/or manpower. I’m always happy to help a reporter out, but there are rapidly diminishing returns for doing so.
Thank you for your thoughtful comments. You make a lot of valid points, and I agree with everything you wrote. And you’re right that there are larger issues at work – no blog post can be totally comprehensive, and you’ve helped make mine a lot more complete.
Thanks again, and be well,
As a former journalist, I can attest to the final point on median wages! I think most journalists either accept that as the cost of working what is for the most part a very interesting job, or they move on. And the other points are well taken – journalism has gotten a lot tougher the past few years. I was recently talking to a veteran colleague who’s still in the business, and he compared the constant deadlines and updates imposed by the web to working for the wire services(he worked for a state UPI bureau way back when). So this concept isn’t entirely new, but the difference was that the wires were well known as a place that paid low and worked you like a dog, but you would get great training for a couple years and then could move on. Now it seems like that’s the norm throughout the profession. Combine that with the constant threat of layoffs and it’s tough business. I think it’s good for PR people to know what kind of environment/conditions reporters are working under.
I would absolutely agree with this. I worked as a commercial radio journalist in Australia for many years, and witnessed the erosion of newsrooms to the point where they’re often staffed by only one or two people. However, the demands for accuracy are still the same. So are the pressures to get the story no matter what. We had equipment that was often decades old and falling apart. The veteran journalists had left for greener and more lucrative fields long ago. Or they were sacked for being too expensive. The journalists we did have were worked into the ground.
It’s very sad, but the newsrooms seem populated by very young people with little or no experience (or is that just because I’m getting older now?!).
I would say it was a remarkable experience and I learnt so much, but would I want my child to go into that environment? No way!
This is a great discussion, all valid points. I’ve never been a reporter, but I sympathize with the challenges of constant deadlines, to say nothing of the fierce competition around every corner.
My “gripe” has less to do with the various pressures everyone is under and more about manners. Just because people are under pressure doesn’t give them a free pass to be patently rude. Maybe it’s just a personality thing. If someone calls me while I’m crunching on a deadline, I’ll politely just tell them it’s not a great time – I certainly would never bark at someone on the other end of the line that I’ve never met, which has certainly happened to me a time or two. When did that become excusable for anyone? We should all be a little more decent to each other sometimes, no?
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