March 16, 2009

Do layoffs make journalists blue or is life just ducky after leaving newspapers?

press duck slice of David Biegelow printUniversity of Kansas assistant professor Scott Reinardy wants to test this thesis: Firing a newspaper's staff will change news coverage and depress journalists.

And he wants journalists who have lost/left their newspaper jobs (via layoffs, buyouts, etc.) to take 10 to 15 minutes to answer a survey. He's hoping to find a couple of hundred former newspaper journalists to answer the questions and gave me the OK to post the link to the survey.

As I learned on, the researchers are curious:
"We want to know how you have adapted in your personal and professional life since leaving the newspaper."
No names are needed, though you are asked to name the newspaper you left. You can skip any question you don't feel comfortable answering. Results cannot be attributed to a specific individual unless you choose to reveal yourself.

Reinardy was quick to answer my emails to even over the weekend. He also pointed me to the Kansas City Pitch, where blogger Peter Rugg wrote more about the study expected to take about five years to complete.

Rugg says the study will look at how people who survive layoffs act after the cuts and to see what happens to the people who get cut, many of whom are middle-aged professionals who have lost not just a job but a career.
"It's what I'm calling the lost generation of journalists," Reinardy said. "With the transition happening in newsrooms, we're going to have a different product on the other end. When you change the dynamics of the newsroom and lose people with vast institutional experience, you change the coverage and the dimension of quality."
Reinardy worked in the industry for 18 years before getting his Ph.D. from University of Missouri-Columbia. The former sports reporter and author of “The Essentials of Sports Reporting and Writing” focuses his research on the stress and burnout rates of newsroom employees. He also wrote about the burnout of young journalists.

The Kansas City Plog, says that in 2007, the answers from 800 people led to him charting burnout and
"found that exhaustion leads to cynicism, which in turn leads to a decrease in personal satisfaction with your job" ... and "apparently the younger generation of journalism students isn't interested in 50-hour work weeks and sacrificing time with their family for an uncertain future."
I wondered if we really need a study to see if layoffs makes journalists blue. Seems Rugg did too. Here's the answer:
"I don't dispute that it's a common-sense thing. But by documenting it, we'll know exactly where the problems are occurring. I ask survivors how they've changed their work and what they've changed and if people are working under fear of whether they're going to lose their jobs. Right now is sort of a flash point, and we need to record it."
His study is geting the attention of some other journalists and bloggers, including David House, House is among the many who worries that the gutting of the newsrooms leads to institutional memory loss.

In Tracking the lost generation, House writes:
"Layoffs have cost U.S. newspapers an incredible amount of institutional knowledge as thousands of mid- to late-career journalists have been jettisoned.

"These are journalists who have lived through and learned about many years of developments on local, state, national and international levels. They have immediate connection with context that was used in many ways, from planning stories and investigations to strengthening the editing process and knowing simple trivia that, if published incorrectly, makes a paper look stupid as hell and blows a hole in credibility .... stuff like who's dead, who isn't, why/where/when things happened, etc. ...

"Loss of institutional knowledge is a tragedy for readers -- especially in local coverage -- who stand to get thinner context and shallower coverage, and it's a loss of armor in journalism's credibility."
OK, so if the memory holders and other laid-off journalists could mosey over to the SurveyMonkey and answer just a few questions on the survey, you can help keep one more ex-journalist employed.

Updated: Survey links fixed and he got his Ph.D. from University of Missouri-Columbia.

** "The study examines those who have left newspaper jobs and are seeking new jobs, or perhaps, new careers," Reinardy says.


  1. Is it OK for a bought out journalist to fill out the survey?

  2. I asked and the reply is yes. "The study examines those who have left newspaper jobs and are seeking new jobs, or perhaps, new careers," Scott says.