How journalists at different levels see their work

"The Journalist"

[中文][Jan 2011 - The Journalist] Low pay, long working hours have, historically, characterised the media industry for journalists. In recent times some areas of the industry have become relatively better, others have declined. The reporter, mainstay of the industry, is worst off.

Of 398 respondents in our survey who identified themselves as reporters, about 30 percent had been working for two years or less, more than half have been working for four years or less.

This showed that in their fourth year reporters generally give thought to whether to remain or quit altogether. Fewer senior reporters stay. Some 16 percent of respondents have been working for four to seven years while 10 percent have been working between seven to 10 years. However, reporters with 10 to 15 years experience made up 13 percent.

In terms of remuneration, the median is $12,000-$15,000, with 75 percent of respondents earning $20,000 or less. Only seven percent earned more than $30,000.

Assistant Professor, Dr. To Yiu-ming of Hong Kong Baptist University's Journalism Department noted that when 75 percent earned $20,000 or less a month this meant that a huge majority of newsmen had 10 years' experience or less. This showed that most reporters were not thinking of journalism as a lifelong career, unless they could be promoted to team leader or assignment editor.

Low morale among editors

The number of team leaders and assignment editors in a newsroom is limited. It is impossible to accommodate all senior reporters. Hence more reporters are considering quitting. (See Table 1.).

A total of 62 percent of reporters said they had looked at job advertisements in search of a job and applied for jobs in other industries during the last 12 months.

The descending order of inclination to look for another job is team leaders, deputy or assignment editors (40%), editors (40%), photo-journalists (31%) and highest management (24%).

It is surprising and worrying that 40 percent of the backbone of the media (team leaders, assignment editors and deputy assignment editors) are considering looking for work in totally unrelated fields. If they have no intention to stay, who will pass on the knowledge and expertise to new reporters? Can they be depended upon to carry out instructions?

The morale among better paid senior management is not exceptionally high. And they are not young: 24 percent said they were thinking of working in another industry. Some 12 percent said they would not consider journalism as a lifelong career.

Job Title (Number)Looking at job advertisements for a job in other industriesApplied for Jobs in another industryNone of the above

No answer

Reporter (398)149 (38%)95(24%)146(37%)6(2%)
Team Leader, Deputy and Assignment Editor (93)25(27%)12(13%)50(53%)6(7%)
Editor (133)31(23%)22(17%)77(58%)3(2%)
Photojournalist (63)13(21%)6(10%)43(68%)1(2%)
Senior management (Assistant Chief Editor or above, 25)4(16%)2(8%)19(76%)0
Table 1:Have you been contemplating switching to another industry in the past 12 months?

In fact, most people are thinking of leaving. According to Table 2, among different job categories, two to 11 percent of respondents thought they would quit within a year. This exodus of media practitioners most likely will happen after 12 months to four years. Among the various categories, 23-56 percent said they would quit at this period. The inclination to leave is stronger among reporters and editors. Over 50 percent said they would leave after 12 months to four years, much more than those who would quit after six years.

Job Title (Number of Respondents)Percentage thinking of leaving within a yearPercentage thinking of leaving after 1-2 yrsPercentage thinking of leaving after 2-4 yrsPercentage thinking of leaving after 4-6 yrsPercentage thinking of leaving after 6 yrs

Reporter (398)11%28%28%10%18%
Team leader, Deputy, Assignment Editors (93)7%14%27%13%35%
Senior Management(Deputy Chief Editor or above, 25)0%12%16%32%32%
Table 2:Estimated number of years staying in media industry

Because some respondents did not answer, the total percentage is not 100 percent

Low pay, long working hours are the main reasons

The over-all trend is similar to the analysis in the previous article. Salaries in the media industry is lower than other industries with long working hours, 5.5 to 6 day week affecting work-life balance are the two main reasons for reporters to think of switching to other industries. However, there is a slight difference between the two. For photo-journalists (79 percent), reporters (77 percent) and editors (63 percent), low pay is the main reason to consider quitting. For senior management (67 percent), team leaders and assignment editors (61 percent), the main reason is the long working hours.

It is understandable that the frontline staff is more concerned about salary. At management level concerns about family life and leisure figure more as their income is, relatively, better.

Apart from the general trend, some respondents provided lengthy answers to open-ended questions to enable us to understand their concerns. A reporter who has been working for seven to 10 years said she would quit next year because, “I wish reporting could be my lifelong career… speak up for people, monitoring government. However, I feel helpless that the quality of…media is deteriorating, experienced reporters continue to leave. Because of cost-savings media outlets only employ those without relevant experience as replacements. When an assignment editor knows reporters cannot handle the job well, they will give more work to the few remaining experienced reporters. Experienced reporters are seriously overloaded. Although they hope to do a good job, they have no time to pay attention to each task. Therefore they handle them haphazardly… Moreover, poor annual salary increments is another reason…Although job satisfaction is important, salary levels should not be too low or be frozen indefinitely.”

One reporter said journalism would not be his lifelong career because the social status of a reporter is low, and he could not find any job satisfaction.

Others say the news media has been “tamed”, there is a lack of editorial independence and lots of restrictions, serious dislike of self-censorship, and that the job is not conducive to marriage or raising a family.

Among senior management who have gone through hard times as reporters, some do not consider journalism to be a lifelong pursuit because the working environment is far from ideal, such as, ‘media practices ignore quality and ethics’, ‘the working environment is deteriorating’, ’media environment is bad, fundamental principles are violated’ and ‘self-censorship, too market driven’.

Senior management should have more power to fight for better working conditions. If they also feel vulnerable, how can they fight for their reporters? Should media owners bear the responsibility? After all, media is not a simple business.

Appeal of journalistic work

In spite of the tendency among serving newsmen to leave the calling, many still prefer to stay. Most senior management think working for news media is their lifelong careers (64 percent). According to one the “the job nature is interesting, it broadens my horizon and benefits me, gives me the chance to get to know people the elite circle” and “my job is meaningful with good is my interest.”

Some 43 percent of team leaders and assignment editors think working for news media is their lifelong career because of interest, ambition, sense of responsibility, meaningful job nature and challenging, etc.

However, some reasons are quite negative, ”I am a middle-aged man, I do not have other skills”, “I am nearing retirement” and “I have not thought about it, I am too old to move. My life will end soon.”

Some reporters see working in the media as a lifelong career because “this job has an unique responsibility, social function, influence, interest and sense of satisfaction”, “it can change the society”, “I have experience. I am interested in this job, I have established personal network, I like reporting news or related work”, “I still have many story ideas and I hope to finish them all.”

As Dr. To suggested, the academic achievement of journalists is relatively high, they have good chances of getting better jobs but they chose to be reporters. So to a certain extent they have made a sacrifice for their interests. However a job cannot be developed into a lifelong career if it only attracts people who work solely for their own interests.

He added that the problem was more serious for reporters as only two percent of reporters earn more than $40,000 a month. It is impossible to attract capable reporters with good writing and reporting skills, critical thinking and analytical mind.

Besides, reporters complained that they are like “factory workers”, following daily routines every day, and capable reporters with multiple skills have no chance to contribute, so if they find better chances outside the media industry, they have little hesitation about quitting.