Blues in the Newsroom

By Stein, M. L. | Editor & Publisher, August 22, 1992 | Go to article overview

Blues in the Newsroom


Stein, M. L., Editor & Publisher


Copy editors suffered "significantly higher" emotional exhaustion than reporters and were more prone to burnout, according to a study of 120 staffers at 10 dailies of varying size and publication schedules.

Copy editors also were found to have higher levels of "deperSonalization" than reporters, although the sense of personal accomplishment was less for both at larger-circulation papers.

The study, "The Effect of Work Environment on Job Burnout in Newspaper Reporters and Copy Editors," was one of more than 300 research papers delivered at the 75th annual convention of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (AEJMC) in Montreal, Aug. 5-8.

Some 1,300 college journalism educators attended the event, which AEJMC's president, Terry Hynes of California State University, Fullerton, said comes at a time when the media are in a "dynamic state of change" in which they face new challenges.

The tightened economy also affects journalism programs, particularly in public colleges and universities, which must accommodate new knowledge in the field while facing harsh budget restrictions, Hynes said.

Like most of the papers, the burnout study by Steve R. Banks and Ralph J. Turner of Marshall University, and Betsy B. Cook of Otterbein College, relied on a quantitive analysis of data.

Their research involved two psychological tests to measure the relationship between work environment and job burnout, and a demographic survey of only full*time employees handling news copy, including beat and general-assignment reporters, and copy editors with both editing and layout design duties.

Among the questions was, "Do you plan to leave journalism within the next five years?" Respondents also expressed their feelings on a scale of one to five on such statements as "If I had to do it over, I would still choose a career in journalism," "I am satisfied with my present work," and "The world of work is different than I expected.''

Their study, the authors reported, also turned up these findings:

* Older workers demonstrated "significantly lower levels of emotional exhaustion ."

* Staffers who indicated they were highly satisfied with their jobs had significantly lower scores on emotional exhaustion and depersonalization.

* "Involvement"--the extent to which reporters and copy editors are concerned and committed to their jobs--is significantly correlated with emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and personal accomplishment. Those who were more involved were less burned out.

* Workers with higher levels of supervisor support had a greater sense of personal achievement.

* Work pressure and physical comfort also were factors related to burnout: the more intense the pressure, the higher the emotional exhaustion.

All in all, the investigators said, reporters were much more likely to pick journalism as a career if they were starting over.

The three professors pointed out, however, that the lowered satisfaction of copy editors occurs as "information processing is becoming more important than ever" as new technologies emerge.

They urged managers to become more supportive of copy editors and reporters by finding "creative ways to involve them in on-the-job decisions."

Participants in the study were employed at the Arizona Republic; Cincinnati Enquirer; Dallas Morning News, Fort Myers (Fla.) NewsPress; Lexington (Ky.) Herald Leader; Monroe (N.C.) Enquirer Journal; Palm Beach (Fla.) Post; Rockford (Ill.) Register Star; Tucson Citizen; and the Washington Times.

In another paper, David E. Boeyink of Indiana University disclosed that in three Indiana newsrooms, written ethical standards were rarely invoked to resolve ethics situations, even when the code was relevant. …

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