Journalists are leaving the industry during the pandemic, I’m one of them

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Leaving journalism wasn’t an easy choice. I left my job in local news back in February for a number of reasons—the biggest being my desire to pivot into the field of law. I was in a privileged position to be living with my family at the time which allowed me to take time to both study for the LSAT and really explore what I wanted to do next in my career.

Thankfully, I found LexBlog. I can say one month in that I’m happily still doing many of the things I loved to do as a journalist—but now with an eye towards my future goal of becoming an attorney. I got very lucky.

As I’ve been settling into my new role as a publishing intern, I’ve been thinking about what got me here. And after reading Sara Guaglione’s recent article—‘Quit your f – king job’: How the pandemic has pushed journalists to exit the industry—I realized I wasn’t the only former journalist who made the choice to leave the industry.

I started to recognize that, in my own life, I was seeing this same trend play out with a number of former colleagues and friends who have either left the field or seriously considered it. The journalists I know always took great pride in their profession, and yet, so many we’re calling it quits—why?

Is the pandemic to blame for burnout?

Burnout is real. Trust me. When day in and day out you’re tracking COVID infection and death data, taking calls from readers and listeners calling you “fake news,” trying to cover local and national elections along with all the other horrors the world has to offer—it can really start to get to you.

David Rosenfeld was a journalist for two decades. He even says he was “thrilled” when he was chosen to lead the Southern California News Group’s coverage of the pandemic due to his background in healthcare reporting. In August he finally had enough and quit his job. He had this to say in the aforementioned article:

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It just wore me down. I broke. I got so burnt out. I didn’t even realize how much of an effect it was having on me. In February of this year, I couldn’t do another day. I had a breakdown. I was so depressed.

Journalism, like law, is a job that can be hard to turn off. You have to be plugged in 24/7, your work is under constant scrutiny and you can’t afford to make mistakes. It’s a stressful job and only further compounded by everything that has occurred since the start of the pandemic.

Is this just a pandemic issue?

Burnout is being accelerated by the pandemic—that cannot be denied. But when this pandemic truly ends, the core issues causing burnout will not dissipate—at least not without major changes.

I don’t have all the answers on how to fix the issues present in journalism—I don’t think the industry does either. As such, the future outlook for journalists is not encouraging, neither is this stat:

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts journalism jobs will decline by 4.8% by 2030, after already shrinking from nearly 66,000 workers in 2000 to 52,000 in 2019.

The further loss and consolidation of journalism jobs will only further compound the current issues. Fewer journalists inevitably means longer hours and more work for those left and, more than likely, they’ll still be working for the same low wages. Unless outlets are suddenly able to find new sources of funding and commit to paying their journalists better, these issues seem likely to worsen.

On top of this, most of the journalism jobs lost continue to be at the local level. If current trends continue, the news deserts of America will only grow and the current issues with disinformation will only continue to rise.

Where have all the journalists gone?

Everyone has their own reasons for getting into journalism. For some, it’s a passion for writing, for others a knack for interviewing people. For me, it was a desire to help others. The times I felt most passionate about my work as a journalist were when my stories highlighted inequities or exposed corruption. And while the highs of those moments sustained me for a long while, the lows of journalism were still ever-present.

Eventually, I realized journalism was not the only way I could achieve my goals of helping others, and law—something I had always considered pursuing—was another avenue. While the field of law is sure to come with its own challenges, a change was necessary for me, and evidently others.

I know former journalists who made the natural transition to public relations or marketing jobs, but just as many who have gone in completely different directions—tech workers, bartenders, retail workers, retirees. Most are happy with the change of pace.

I have tremendous respect for those who have remained in the industry. Journalists are essential to our democracy and we must find ways to invest in and reinvigorate local news. But in the meantime, the industry will continue bleeding and losing many of its best and brightest minds and I can’t blame those who have moved on.

Alec Downing
About the Author

Alec is an intern on LexBlog’s publishing team where he creates content for the company’s various digital platforms. A former radio news anchor, Alec brings both a background in journalism and a passion for law. Alec has the eventual goal of attending law school—and of course—starting his own law blog. His writing has been published in The Seattle Times and Crosscut.

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