by Sarah Mirk
As Byron Beck reports today on his blog, three Willamette Week staffers are moving along from the paper. There's been some significant staff changes at our rival paper recently (Recap! News editor Hank Stern left for a PR job at the county, Oregonian reporter Brent Walth took his place, and WW news reporter Beth Slovic joined the O), but this is significant because Culture Editor Kelly Clarke, Copy Editor Kat Merck, and reporter James Pitkin are all leaving without other jobs lined up.
I haven't talked with any of the three, but I think it's worth noting as a sad sign of the times. Hopefully, they'll all wind up with new jobs in journalism, but, actually, I wish them the best in finding jobs that make them happy. And those jobs most likely don't involve newspapers. There have been a couple depressing studies about journalism burnout, but the one I've been thinking about a lot recently is a January 2011 study that found 74.5 percent of journalists 34 and younger either said they planned to leave newspaper journalism or said they "didn't know" whether they would stick with the industry. The most at-risk to burnout are young copy editors or page designers working at small newspapers.
My 25th birthday is next week, which means I've been reporting professionally for newspapers off-and-on for six years (!!) and understand exactly what these studies mean when they talk about burnout. Getting paid two, three, or four times more to use my same skills for a PR company holds a certain allure (for example, the allure of a mini-pony, which I could purchase for my yacht, which I could also purchase) but just up-and-quitting the grind seems even nicer. In some ways, it's like this for any job. But in many ways, it's not. Because whenever I start to question my life as a reporter, there's a dozen hounding stories about the death of journalism to back up the belief that I'm crazy for sticking with it. Whenever I talk to students who are thinking about trying to become reporters, it becomes a pep talk encouraging them to go for it if it's what they really love to do. Because they should! Because the world always needs more good reporters. And because it's an interesting job that provides an excuse to be endlessly curious. But on the other hand, off-putting to work in an industry where every discussion of the industry feels either gloomy or frantic.
For the foreseeable future, I'm definitely sticking with it. But if you've ever worked in media or have thoughts on burnout, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.