Many young journalists in Estonia leave the field before gaining five years of experience because of being dissatisfied with their work and salary; feeling that the job is too tiring, takes up too much time and creates a home-work conflict according to Signe Ivask, PhD student at the University of Tartu, Institute of Social Studies who is researching how journalists use their time during their news writing process.
“During the last decade, being a journalist has changed from being a reporter for one medium to working as a multitasking information distributor for several mediums at once. The rise of online journalism and the collapse of the old economic model have brought along serious issues in journalism,” she explained. Firstly, the circulation numbers of the dailies have decreased and so has the amount of advertisements. Secondly, in Estonia, most of the news is still available for free on the Internet—therefore, newsrooms do not produce extra income.
Danger of burning out
“Because of the lack of income, the dailies cannot afford to hire more journalists to write for different mediums. Yet, they have a newspaper that needs to be published every day and an online outlet that needs to be updated at least every hour,” Ivask mentioned and added that these kinds of tasks fall on younger less experienced journalists who are bound by contract to perform these functions. “Instead of writing for just the newspaper, most of the younger journalists write and create material for an online publication as well. They have been put under a lot of stress and are therefore in danger of burning out,” she said.
Brit Laak, lecturer and supervisor at the Chair of Journalism, University of Tartu added that young journalists may not feel the pressure because they do not take time to think and analyse their work. “Working less is not the generally accepted norm and the wheel is spinning faster and faster,” Laak said. She described that due to the lack of time, articles become just a piece of work for journalists, while they also feel that they cannot use their full potential because there is little feedback.
Fear of calling
For now, Ivask has conducted three observations to gather empirical data, two of them in national dailies and one in a local newspaper’s newsroom. In addition, she had set up two focus group meetings to get a closer look of what journalists do in a day.
One of the most illustrative discoveries is the difference in the time-consuming practices of experienced and less-experienced journalists. “Younger journalists preferred e-mailing to phoning a source. This brought along issues: waiting for the answers and not knowing whether or not the source was going to answer. So in some sense, they gave away their autonomy; they were dependent on other people. Yet, more experienced journalists wanted to meet the source or phone them, getting the information quite fast and effortlessly,” Ivask explained.
She added that more experienced journalists have a network of sources as well, so they contact them without having to introduce themselves in detail, less experienced journalists are just starting to build a network of sources and have not yet become household names.
What is more, even if the less experienced journalists chose phoning as a communication method, the calls were made outside of the newsroom, in some cases even in the hallway. Some of the reasons were “not wanting to disturb colleagues” or “not wanting to make a fool out of oneself when asking foolish or unimportant questions from the source in front of experienced journalists”.
“Less-experienced journalists tended to fragment their work-process: they walked around in the newsroom quite often, made phone calls outside of the newsroom, visited colleagues, talked to them, checked their e-mail account while writing the news and spent a lot of time online, communicating with friends. Due to all of this, a lot of the news-writing was done in the afternoon, near the editing and designing deadline. There was no room for errors or correcting them and this made the journalists stress out,” Ivask noted.
Benefit to Journalism Studies
Ivask believes that the results of the research could be used to improve the capabilities future journalist gain from the university. One measure they already use is supervised self-reflection. Laak said that it teaches how to take time for thinking. “During the supervision a young journalist and supervisor discuss expectations, the realisation of a journalist’s potential and potential disturbing factors, they set goals and try to find individual ways of working so that a journalist could meet their goals,” she explained.
Ivask added that students get the “tools” to manage in newsrooms. “We are working on giving the students the capability of reflecting on their emotions to get over days that might be emotionally draining,” she explained. According to her, the next big step is to explain the necessity of time management to the students.
Ivask and her colleagues continue the research by analysing sports journalists’ working practices during the Olympic Games. They endeavour to define the demands and benefits of a sports journalist’s work. “I have done a similar study in the US as well, and I can say that although Estonian journalists tend to have more work on their hands, they are less expressive in emotional and psychological matters,” she said. What is more, the researchers are now observing weeklies to see what practices journalists use there.
This article was funded by the European Regional Development Fund through Estonian Research Council.