Most US journalists love their work, recognize challenges in news - Pew

Overall, the field of US journalism remains something that is highly valued by those who work in it, but it is one facing numerous challenges, something the journalists are very aware of.

A photojournalist in a press vest [Illustrative] (photo credit: REUTERS)
A photojournalist in a press vest [Illustrative]
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Journalism is a difficult job and the challenges facing the field, especially in the US, have only gotten worse over the years. But despite these challenges, most US journalists are still satisfied and passionate about their work, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

Overall, 70% of American journalists said they were satisfied with their job and that they often feel excited about their work. An overwhelming majority (75%) are also very proud of their work and even more (77%) would, if given the chance, choose a career in journalism all over again.

There are still some who have issues with it though. Over a third (34%) of journalists said their work was bad for their emotional well-being, though around half said it was good for them

Misinformation

Having said that, journalists also recognize many of the challenges facing the industry. 

A majority (71%) noted the issue of fake news, with a further 40% saying that news outlets are not effectively correcting or managing misinformation. Further, 72% of journalists, when asked to describe the industry with a single word, tended to use negative phrases like "chaos" and "struggling." 

A newsstand in Manhattan outfitted with ‘Fake News’ headlines was a stunt by the ‘Columbia Journalism Review,’ in October 2018. (credit: CARLO ALLEGRI/REUTERS)A newsstand in Manhattan outfitted with ‘Fake News’ headlines was a stunt by the ‘Columbia Journalism Review,’ in October 2018. (credit: CARLO ALLEGRI/REUTERS)

Most journalists also say that they come across misinformation often enough while working and while most claim they are able to recognize it, over a quarter (26%) say they have accidentally reported on something that contained false information.

And indeed, dealing with misinformation and false statements is a significant issue journalists are dealing with, especially when a public figure makes a statement with false information. Most (64%) said they should report on the statement, even if it's false because the public needs to know about it. Around a third (32%), however, said that they shouldn't, since reporting on the false statement gives attention to the figure and the misinformation.

Bothesidesism

And this, in turn, relates to another issue: Bothsidesism, a term used to describe outlets that are always committed to giving equal attention to all sides of an issue. This is a very contentious topic in journalism for a number of reasons, such as not wanting to give attention to sides that use misinformation or not wanting to misrepresent the debate as both sides have equal amounts of support when in actuality one side might be considerably more fringe.

Overall, a majority (55%) now say that every side of an argument does not inherently deserve equal coverage, compared to 44% who disagree and say journalists should always work to give equal coverage to every side

Notably, this is an area where the general public and journalists greatly differ. A wide majority (76%) of US adults advocate giving equal coverage to every side.

Editorialization

And then another issue that relates to this is when journalists have to deal with their own views and biases on a given subject. 

So far, a wide majority (82%) say US journalists should always work to keep their own views out of their reporting. But what journalists should do and what they actually do are another story, with nearly half (43%) saying most journalists often can't keep their views and biases out of their reporting and end up editorializing, though over half (55%) say journalists are largely able to do this.

But the issues regarding a journalist's opinions and bothesidesism are also connected to another one: the ideology of a journalist's audience. 

Ideological bent

Roughly half of the journalists pointed to an ideological bent among their audience, with 32% saying it leans leftward and 20% saying it leans to the Right. 

But the trend of audiences to cluster around the same news sources is something that a wide majority (75%) of journalists find to be a major problem, though the American public seems far less worried.

However, several journalist experts have worried about the polarization of the media and the difficulty many in the public have with accepting different narratives from their own ideological bent. 

Journalistic credibility

But another issue where journalists and the American public differ is on journalistic credibility. 

A majority of journalists say that journalists themselves largely agree on the basic facts of the news. However, most Americans won't find this accurate, and over half (52%) of journalists say it is impossible to report news that nearly everyone will find accurate. But a significantly greater share of the American public (62%) also thinks that it is impossible for news to be reported in a way that can be universally accepted as accurate.

And indeed, this is reflected in the low amount of trust the American public tends to have in the press overall. Just 29% of US adults said they had at least a fair amount of trust in the news, with 44% saying they have little to none.

Indeed, journalists seem to be aware of this, with just 14% thinking the US public has significant or at least a fair amount of trust in the press.

This is further reflected when discussing how news outlets are doing when tackling the five core functions of journalism: reporting accurately, acting as a watchdog on elected officials, giving the underrepresented a voice, covering important news and dealing with misinformation. But while journalists themselves say they are doing well in this regard, the American public tends to think the press is doing badly in almost each of these areas.

Interestingly, most journalists do say that they have high confidence in their sources and in knowing which sources to use, but only a small minority (4%) actually speak to their sources in person. Rather, most use other forms of communication, such as emails (42%), phone calls (33%) or text messages (8%).

But the trend of public dissatisfaction with the press is also reflected in another tendency: Avoiding important news.

According to the Digital News Report released by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, the number of people selectively choosing to avoid important news topics such as the coronavirus pandemic, Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis is growing considerably.

This report also indicated that trust in news is also declining, and is lowest in the United States. On average, 42% of people said they trust most news most of the time; that figure has fallen in almost half the countries in the report and risen in seven.

 Social media: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok (credit: Courtesy) Social media: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok (credit: Courtesy)

Social media

But another issue here is social media.

Younger audiences are increasingly accessing the news via platforms such as TikTok, and have a weaker connection to news brands, the Digital News Report found.

Each week 78% of 18- to 24-year-olds access news via aggregators, search engines and social media. Forty percent of that age group uses TikTok each week, with 15% saying they use it to find, discuss or share the news.

The Pew survey found that for journalists in the US, many saw social media as both a blessing and a curse.

An overwhelming majority (94%) said they used social media in their work to some degree and they see a number of ways it helps with their jobs. For instance, 87% say it helps promote stories, 79% say it helps connect with their audiences, a further 79% say it helps find sources, 75% say it helps find stories to cover, 49% say it helps get accurate information and 41% say it helps build trust in their reporting. 

But over two-thirds (67%) said that overall, journalism has been harmed by social media, and only 18% say that the impact of social media has been positive.

Social media is also the largest area where journalists say they've been harassed. Overall, 42% of journalists say someone outside their news outlet has harassed or threatened them within the past year. Of these journalists, 78% said that at least one of these instances was over social media.

By contrast, harassment from inside their organization was much rarer, with just 8% of journalists saying it happened. The most common reason for it, though, was political in nature. 

It should be noted that demographically, younger journalists tend to favor social media far more than older journalists.

Future of press freedom

Another major issue for US journalists is the future of freedom of the press in the country, with over half (57%) expressing concern over possible restrictions against the press in the future.

Several factors have weighed against American news outlets in recent years. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), two notable issues are the fact that local news has suffered a steep decline in recent years and that just a small group of wealthy companies and individuals have ownership of many of the country's most popular news outlets. 

However, in terms of government restrictions, American press freedom is some of the best in the world, with freedom of the press being one of the core values upon which the United States was built. While the country may not be the best in the world anymore – in fact, the RSF ranks Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Portugal, Costa Rica, Lithuania and Liechtenstein as the top 10 spots on the Press Freedom Index while the US is ranked at 42 – it is still famous for journalism unhampered by government rules.

Overall, it is older journalists who tend to be worried about the future of press freedom, though older journalists are also more likely to feel fulfilled by their job.

One interesting feature of US journalism is that one does not need a license to be a journalist. This is a topic that often comes up in discourse every now and then, though as of now, a solid wide majority (74%) oppose requiring journalists to be licensed.

It should also be noted that newspapers and online news outlets are fully unregulated and do not have licenses. By contrast, television and radio outlets are licensed and regulated.

Workplace worries

Many journalists (42%) are also worried about job security, with some also saying that their news outlets have been cutting back. Online outlets were found to be most likely to expand.

In addition, just 41% of journalists received a salary increase.

A majority of journalists (73%) work for news outlets that don't have unions. However, unionization among news outlets has been on the rise in recent years, with 37 newsrooms unionizing in 2020 and over 100 unionizing altogether since 2015.

According to the survey, 16% of journalists are members of a union, and most journalists without one (56%) said they would join one if it were available.

Overall, the field of US journalism remains something that is highly valued by those who work in it, but it is one facing numerous challenges, something the journalists are very aware of and struggle to work through.

Reuters contributed to this report.