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Burnout high among local TV journalists, survey reveals

Pressures of the job and a lack of resources are among the reasons cited for high burnout in local TV newsrooms across America.

Pressures of the job and a lack of resources are among the reasons cited for high burnout in local TV newsrooms across America.

A newsroom. (Graphic by The Desk)
(Stock image, Graphic by The Desk)

Journalists working at local television stations are experiencing more burnout now than they did in the past, according to a survey of television news directors released this week.

The study, released by the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA), reflects an industry that is expecting local reporters, producers, editors and other key news staff to do more work with fewer resources and less support from able-bodied colleagues.

The organization worked with the Newhouse School at Syracuse University to screen responses collected from nearly 1,400 news directors at local television stations in late 2022, several months before major media companies laid off workers and closed newsroom across the country.

Even still, the situation at local television stations was mostly dire, with more than 68 percent of news directors reporting a high amount of pressure and stress among their workers brought on by exhaustion, high tempers and a general feeling that corporate executives have little regard for their needs.

News directors offered a number of comments about the burnout in their newsroom. Some of their anonymous testimonials were provided by RTDNA in their report.

“Even in myself, this is no longer an enjoyable business,” one news director complained. “Frustration, frayed tempers, extreme disgust at this corporation and others for their focus on the bottom line and failure to recognize employee burnout and need to increase pay.”

“Because we are short-staffed — seven to eight employees at any given time, even though I am constantly hiring — staff is asked to do more or do jobs they don’t normally do,” another newsroom executive said. “Frustrations have boiled over at times; many are coming to me with mental health or stress-related issues.”

The high levels of stress didn’t seem to correlate with a lower rate of employment in the local TV industry. In fact, the RTDNA’s report showed the opposite: More than 27,600 workers are employed in local TV newsrooms across the U.S., a year-over-year increase of 5.1 percent.

The average number of people working inside a local newsroom was reported at just under 42, according to data reviewed by The Desk. The number of people employed in each role broke down like this (the numbers are rounded up to the nearest whole, and do not include all positions in the survey):

  • 1 News Director
  • 1 Assistant News Director
  • 6 News Anchors
  • 3 Field Reports
  • 5 Multi-Media Journalists
  • 5 Field Photographers
  • 4 Meteorologists or Weather Forecasters
  • 2 Sports Anchors
  • 2 Executive News Producers
  • 6 Junior News Producers
  • 2 Video Editors
  • 2 Web Writers or Web Producers

The RTDNA said the list of newsroom positions doesn’t radically change with time, though the number of people assigned to each role does increase or decrease, depending on staff changes. The report didn’t provide prior-year data to demonstrate which roles see the biggest increase or decrease.

In addition to hiring more staff, around 88 percent of news directors surveyed said they’re exploring ways to reduce stress and burnout among their staff. Those initiatives include adding team-building exercises, making positive engagement with staff about their lives outside of work, offering gym memberships and encouraging employees to take paid sick leave if they are experiencing mental health issues.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).