Survey of journalists, conducted by researchers at the Newhouse School, provides insights into the state of journalism today
A majority of U.S. journalists say they have been abused and threatened.
According to a survey conducted by researchers at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, a majority of journalists working in news media across the U.S. say they have faced verbal abuse, and about a third have received threats from a variety of sources—likely a reflection of bitter political divides, social media use and the stress of the COVID pandemic.
Female journalists were 7-to-14 times more likely to have experienced sexism and about 10 times more likely to have encountered threats of sexual violence, both online and offline.
However, journalists’ professional satisfaction in their work, and the degree of freedom they feel they have to do it, appear to be up slightly compared to a decade ago.
These are among the initial findings of “The American Journalist Under Attack.” The study, based on an online survey of 1,600 journalists in early 2022, was funded by the Newhouse School and the John Ben Snow Foundation. The authors are Lars Willnat, John Ben Snow Research Professor at the Newhouse School; David H. Weaver, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Indiana University; and Cleve Wilhoit, Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. Survey findings will be published in a book titled “The American Journalist Under Attack: Media, Trust & Democracy.”
- Most still see journalism going in “the wrong direction.” Six in 10 U.S. journalists (60%) say that journalism in the United States is going in the wrong direction. When asked about problems facing journalism, the decline in public trust appears to have surpassed earlier worries about the business model of journalism.
- Newsrooms are still shrinking. About four in 10 U.S. journalists (44%) say that their workforces have shrunk during the past year and about a quarter (27%) say that their staff numbers remained the same. At the same time, nearly one-third (29%) of U.S. journalists report some growth, mainly in newsrooms of online organizations, radio stations and magazines.
- More women in journalism. The number of women in U.S. journalism increased to 41% in 2022, up more than three percentage points from 2013.
- More minority journalists. The number of minority journalists working for the U.S. news media has increased significantly from 11% in 2013 to 18% in 2022. However, the total percentage of minority journalists remains well below the overall percentage of minorities in the U.S. population (42.2% in 2020).
- Gender pay gap closes. Median income has climbed to about $74,000, up about $13,000 from 2013 after inflation adjustment. The 2022 survey suggests that the persistent pay gap for women journalists observed between 1971 and 2013 has almost closed, with women earning about $400 less per year on average than their male colleagues.
- Most say they are Independents or Democrats. In 2022, slightly more than 36% of U.S. journalists say they identify with the Democrat Party, up about eight percentage points from 2013. The number of those who identified with the Republican party decreased about six percentage points to 3.4% during the same period. The number of journalists identifying as Independents increased by about two percentage points to 52% in 2022.
- Perceived job satisfaction increases. Job satisfaction increased from 23% of journalists who said they were “very satisfied” with their job in 2013, to 29% who said so in 2022. This reverses the steep decline in job satisfaction observed between 2002 (33%) and 2013 (23%).
- Perceived job autonomy also increases slightly. The survey findings between 1971 and 2013 documented a continuing erosion of perceived professional autonomy in the nation’s newsrooms. This trend was halted in 2022 with 35% of journalists who said that they had “almost complete freedom” in selecting their stories. This represents a two percentage point increase compared with 2013.
- Government “watchdog” role increases. When asked to identify priorities for news media, more than eight in 10 journalists (85%) said investigating government claims is extremely important. That percentage is up seven points from 2013 (78%).
- Fewer journalists value “analyzing complex problems.” A majority of journalists (57%) also said that “analyzing complex problems” in society is extremely important. However, that percentage is down almost 12 percentage points from 2013.
- “Getting information out quickly” also drops. In 1992, almost 69% of U.S. journalists said it was extremely important “to get out information to the public quickly.” Three decades later, only 44% thought this role to be extremely important, possibly because of the competition of online news and social media in the 21st Century.
- More negative perceived impact of social media on journalism. Less than one-third of U.S. journalists (28%) thought in 2022 that social media had a positive impact on the profession, which represents a significant drop from the 70% saying that in 2013. This drop is matched by an equally dramatic increase in those who believe social media have a negative impact on the profession (from 19% in 2013 to almost 60% in 2022).
- Perceived newsroom diversity. When asked in which areas journalists thought their news organizations most needed to hire different types of reporters to increase the diversity of their reporting staffs, the largest group (26.5%) thinks that more journalists of color need to be hired to increase racial and ethnic diversity in their newsrooms. A significant number also thinks that more diversity is needed in terms of political (22%) and sexual orientation (13%).
- Threats against journalists. About six in 10 journalists (61%) report they had received some sort of threat while on the job, ranging from verbal abuse (54% online, 38% offline), insults (49% online, 26% offline), intimidation (36% online, 29% offline) to physical abuse (10%). Women journalists were 7-to-14 times more likely to have experienced sexism, either online (35% vs. 5% men) or in-person (31% vs. 2% men). They were also much more likely to have encountered threats of sexual violence, both online (13% vs. 1% men) or in-person (5% vs. 1% men). Minority journalists were found to be about six times more likely to have experienced racism than white journalists online (37% vs. 7% white) and in-person (21% vs. 3% white).
The survey continues the series of major national studies of U.S. journalists begun in 1971 by sociologist John Johnstone and continued in 1982, 1992, 2002 and 2013 by Weaver, Wilhoit and their colleagues at Indiana University. Few studies of an occupation as important as journalism can claim a half-century’s analytical perspective on the work, professional attitudes and ethics from large samples of the people working in it.
For more information about the study, visit www.theamericanjournalist.org or contact Willnat at firstname.lastname@example.org.