KU News Release

Dec. 5, 2011
Contact: Mike Krings, KU News Service, 785-864-8860

KU study: Journalism 'layoff survivors' tap resources to remain satisfied

LAWRENCE — Newspapers have been cutting staff left and right for several years, dramatically changing how those still in the field do their jobs. In the wake of declining financial resources, journalists who have been able to hold on to emotional resources such as trust, morale and perceived job quality have the highest job satisfaction, according to a recent study by a University of Kansas journalism professor.

Scott Reinardy, associate professor of journalism at KU, recently completed a study in which he surveyed “layoff survivors” at newspapers from around the country. The study was published in the Atlantic Journal of Communication. Among the more than 2,000 journalists surveyed, Reinardy found a wide range who have adapted to the changing face of journalism, and job satisfaction ranges widely as well.

“You’ve lost 50 percent of your newsroom, and colleagues are gone,” Reinardy said of layoff survivors. “How does that affect trust, morale and so on? I really wanted to look at those who are left behind and see how they are working.”

He found two camps: those who view the additional duties, smaller workforce and technological changes as an “exciting new world” and those who view it simply as more work. The mean score for respondents in terms of job satisfaction was 15.2 on a scale of 21. There was no significant difference between men and women’s job satisfaction. Trust, perception of job quality and commitment to the job had significant correlations to job satisfaction, while morale proved even more important. Professional experience, number of years at a newspaper, age and hours worked per week also had positive correlations.

“In essence, older journalists with more professional experience, more years at their newspaper, who worked longer hours at larger newspapers reported slightly more job satisfaction than journalists who were younger, less experienced, working fewer hours at smaller newspapers,” Reinardy wrote.

Reinardy framed the study with Hobfoll’s Conservation of Resources Theory, a sociological idea that contends individuals work to gain and defend valued resources. While financial resources are becoming ever more limited, those who have stockpiled emotional resources such as trust and morale show the highest satisfaction, he found.

Some layoff survivors demonstrated high levels of trust in their organization. Many who survived rounds of layoffs trust the decision makers are making the right choices because they were spared. Journalists who embraced new job duties such as web responsibilities, new use of technology and more or new areas of work tended to have the highest morale and showed commitment to their organizations. Not all viewed such changes favorably.

“I got many comments saying, ‘This isn’t what I got into journalism to do,’” Reinardy said.

Not all who survived layoffs reported high morale or trust, and 23 percent of respondents indicated they intend to leave journalism completely. Forty-four percent said they do not intend to leave, however, and 33 percent said they don’t know. Reinardy said respondents showed a great deal of emotional connection to their work. Many indicated they see journalism as a vocation or calling, not just a job. Others said they simply couldn’t go to farewell parties for laid-off colleagues and friends because they became too emotionally taxing. Anger, bitterness and “survivor’s guilt” also were common among layoff survivors with low job satisfaction.

When examining by job title, columnists, managers and editors reported the highest job satisfaction, while page designers and copy editors reported the lowest. Even those who reported high levels of job satisfaction still had apprehensions about the state of journalism after widespread job cuts.

“Had to lower my standards. Quality has suffered, experienced journalists are a minority,” one respondent wrote. Another said: “With fewer people and the same amount of work, it means cutting corners or doing a half-job on tasks which were once done better.”

Reinardy hopes to expand his research to newspapers that have been successful in adapting to the changing face of journalism. By working with journalists and studying newsrooms that are thriving, he seeks to gain a clearer picture of what people working in those environments and their newspapers are doing right. Despite a lot of recent bad news on the job front, dedicated people still work at newspapers.

“This study shows promise among layoff survivors. It demonstrates that a large number have managed the stress of additional workloads and job responsibilities,” Reinardy wrote. “There are good people out there who remain committed to producing good journalism.”

The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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