LAWRENCE — For more than a decade, newspapers across the country have scaled back their staff, laid off journalists and editors, and made drastic changes in the face of economic challenges. A University of Kansas researcher has gathered insight from thousands of journalists affected directly by those changes in a book examining newspapers’ monumental shift.
Scott Reinardy, professor of journalism, has authored “Journalism’s Lost Generation: The Un-doing of U.S. Newspaper Newsrooms.” The book is a culmination of more than 10 years of Reinardy’s research, in which he personally interviewed hundreds of journalists and surveyed more than 5,000 others on the state of journalism. The journalists all work or worked at small to mid-sized publications with circulations of 100,000 or less, which accounts for about 96 percent of American newspapers.
“What have cuts in the newsrooms done to those journalists in terms of burnout and stress as well as the quality of their work?” Reinardy said. “A lot of journalists lost not only a job but a career, and their communities have lost a lot as well.”
The critical analysis allows not only journalists who have lost jobs, but those who remain in newsrooms as well, to determine what ever-shrinking newsrooms and changing job requirements have meant for the quality of their craft.
“The general consensus is, ‘It’s not as good. How could it be?,’” Reinardy said. “When you have diminished quality, you have diminished product, which exacerbates the economic problems newspapers have been experiencing.”
The lost generation of the book’s title in fact can refer to three generations: lifelong journalists who lost a career, those left behind to deal with the changing reality of the business and new professionals just entering the field who are forced to learn to operate in the business in ways totally different than those of their predecessors.
Throughout the book’s chapters, Reinardy examines topics including the collapse of the industry, burnout and job satisfaction, workload, journalism quality, the unique challenges women in journalism face and social responsibility of newspapers.
In the chapters dedicated to burnout, job satisfaction and workload, journalists paint a clear picture of a profession that has pushed many to the point of leaving or planning to leave the field, even if they have survived numerous rounds of layoffs.
“The expectation of job satisfaction has been diminished. Journalists are a dedicated group who want to do well,” Reinardy said. “But when you lay off their colleagues, expect them to do more and don’t compensate them for it, you tell them their work is not important.”
While the interviewed journalists agreed the quality of journalism has suffered, Reinardy asks pointed questions about where communities will turn to for news and services such as holding government accountable. Producing news is expensive and not perfect, he acknowledges, but it contains the system of checks and balances that assure accurate, truthful reporting takes place that is not present in blogging and other alternative forms of reporting.
Women are especially prevalent in the lost generation as their responses made clear they are leaving newsrooms at a faster pace than men, especially those aged 25 to 35. Some cited personal reasons, others cited professional, while many others were victims to layoffs. Regardless of the reason they left, there are fewer women working as editors and reporters, which has resulted in less diverse coverage.
“Certainly that affects the quality of your coverage,” Reinardy said.
“Journalism’s Lost Generation” will appeal to both current and former professional journalists as well as academics, educators and those interested in the state of journalism and the period of upheaval during the last decade plus.
“The hope is there is a general populace out there who will notice, good or bad, that their local newspaper is in trouble,” Reinardy said. “If a hired group of professionals aren’t going to be producing your news, who will? Who’s going to give your community a respected voice?”