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Young journalists confront burnout

By Billy O'Keefe

By Emory Williamson
Aiesha Little’s hair was falling out in her early 20s.
Working long hours, Little said she felt burned out from her work as a reporter at an upstate New York daily newspaper.
“That’s my stressor,” she said. “That’s when I know I’ve been driving myself too hard.”
Little’s case is not an exception, however, as a Saturday panel discussion titled “Beating Burnout” highlighted issues of journalists feeling overworked and unsatisfied in their newsrooms.
The session was moderated by University of Kansas professor Scott Reinardy, who conducted a 2007 survey that showed journalists 34 and younger were the most exhausted and cynical toward their work.
Forty-four percent of respondents under the age of 34 said they didn’t know if they would remain in journalism, and 34 percent said they were planning to leave the newsroom and pursue something else.
Reinardy said burnout often occurs because of long work hours, high demand for journalists to be savvy in multiple media, and organizations not taking note of their overworked employees.
“You can’t fix burnout,” Reinardy said. “There are no easy answers. No secret potion or pill to take to feel better.”
Despite reports of burnout, a struggling economy and a puzzling industry filled with layoffs and furlough days, some student journalists aren’t afraid of what lies ahead.
Jenna DeWitt, a Baylor University student and campus magazine editor, said she is optimistic about the future of journalism and looks forward to a career in the field.
“It’s a challenge and a wonderful opportunity,” DeWitt said. “We’re not stuck to black and white print on thin paper that’s only going to be thrown in the trash the next day.”
Little, now an associate editor with Cincinnati Magazine, said she enjoys her work now because of the flexibility.
“Sometimes as younger journalists we have a tendency to have outrageous expectations, and the more outrageous the expectations are, the bigger the disappointment,” she said.
Reinardy suggests journalists try to take ownership of their work, define what they want within the organization, take vacations for short-term healing and value others with positive feedback of their work.
“Newspapers need to take into account how employees are being used and used up,” he said.
Panelist Renee Petrina, 26, said burnout occurred for her when she was overworked in her first job as an editor.
“It was destroying me,” Petrina said, adding that she lost weight and had symptoms of depression following burnout with her first job.
She moved on to a job with The Indianapolis Star and enjoyed her work more as she became more involved within the community. She volunteered and spent more time with friends and members of her faith community.
Reinardy said generational differences might be reasons younger journalists are feeling more burnout.
Little and Petrina said older journalists may have stayed at one job for decades and continued to move up the ladder, but younger journalists tend to move from place to place.
“When you put young people in the box, you smother them,”
Reinardy said.
“We have spirited young people, and the old motto doesn’t work very well for them.”