At Pew Research Center, we have long studied the U.S. public’s news consumption habits and views of the news media, as well as how the media covers public figures. In a new survey conducted between Feb. 16 and March 17, 2022, we surveyed journalists themselves to get their perspective on their industry.
To shed more light on the “how” and “why” of this study, we spoke with Amy Mitchell, director of the Center’s journalism research, about the survey’s findings. This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
What were your goals for this project? Why is surveying journalists important?
Journalism in America has been in a state of change, and in many cases turmoil, for decades. Most of the Center’s research on the U.S. news environment has been from the viewpoint of the public. This major new undertaking was designed to capture the other side of the story by asking U.S.-based journalists to provide their own perspective on the industry they work in.
By surveying a huge number of working journalists – nearly 12,000 – we were able to get a sense of their experiences, their views of their role in society, their relationship with their audiences, their internal newsroom dynamics and more. All of this together can tell us about the state of the news industry across the nation during a critical time of change. And as a companion to the survey of journalists, we also surveyed roughly 10,000 U.S. adults about their views of the news industry. This allowed us to uncover where journalists and the American public align or differ in their views of key aspects of journalism.
How did you decide the topics of the survey?
That was difficult. There are so many things we wanted to ask about!
At the beginning of the project, several of us made long lists of ideas about various topics. We reached out to a mix of industry leaders for their thoughts and also formed a small group of advisers from both inside and outside the industry. We then took all of that material and sketched out sections of the questionnaire. After thinking hard about what was most critical to include – and practically speaking, what could be answered in a survey – we ended up with a nice mix of areas that cut across newsroom dynamics, personal experiences and journalists’ relationship with the public.
How did you find the journalists you surveyed?
That was a challenge, too. There is no readily available list of all U.S.-based journalists, so our researchers combined multiple data sources to create a broad and diverse sample. Our goal was to find and include journalists across as many types of outlets and areas of reporting as possible.
The research team relied on two commercial databases. Our researchers then cross-referenced the outlets in both of these databases with additional lists of media outlets – often maintained by academics who track specific segments of the U.S. news industry. Journalists from outlets that were not already in either of the commercial databases were added.
Next, our researchers identified a list of job titles and media outlet types that most closely corresponded to this survey’s target population: working journalists located in the United States, who were defined as individuals who create, edit or report original news stories. Researchers then conducted searches in the databases for records using each combination of job title and outlet type.
Altogether, this process identified a total of 167,886 people who were potentially eligible to participate in the survey, all of whom were included in the initial sample. Finally, because we knew there would likely be some people in the final sample who were not working journalists, we added a couple of questions at the beginning of the survey to determine whether they were eligible to take it. Anyone who indicated that they were not currently in the news industry or did not create, edit or report original news stories was deemed ineligible to take part. We also took out people who refused to answer either of those two questions. In the end, 11,889 journalists completed our survey. You can read the methodology of the new report for more details about the sample design.
Do the results of this survey represent the views of all journalists?
No. Since there is no list of all U.S. journalists, it’s impossible to be certain that every segment of the U.S. journalism profession is represented appropriately in the sample. Still, the Center took several steps to include journalists from as wide a range of reporting backgrounds as possible, considering factors such as the size and type of the news outlet they work for.
We found that the demographic makeup of our final sample is in line with Census Bureau data on the demographic composition of U.S. newsroom employees, as well as these employees’ geographic location.
How do journalists’ attitudes and experiences differ depending on their demographic background and the platform they work for?
Overall, different groups of journalists report largely similar attitudes and experiences. Still, some differences do emerge, particularly by age and type of media platform.
The youngest journalists – those ages 18 to 29 – are often less likely to say their organization has enough diversity in the newsroom. Around seven-in-ten in this age group say there is not sufficient racial and ethnic diversity, compared with 37% of journalists 65 and older. Also, the oldest group of journalists tend to feel more fulfilled by their job. Three-quarters of journalists 65 and older say their job has a very or somewhat positive impact on their emotional well-being, versus just 29% of journalists under 30. Older journalists are also more worried about the future of press freedom – around seven-in-ten say they are extremely or very concerned about possible restrictions on press freedoms in the country, compared with 42% of those ages 18 to 29.
When looking at platform type, journalists who work for an organization that originated on TV seem the least happy with their job when compared with those who work for organizations that originated in print, audio or online. About a third say their job has a very or somewhat positive impact on their emotional well-being, considerably lower than the 54% of those who work online, 52% who work in print and 48% who work in radio or podcasting who say the same. And TV journalists are much more likely to say they were harassed by someone outside their organization in the past year – around six-in-ten say they have had this experience.
This survey didn’t ask journalists for their political party affiliation and/or ideology. Why is that?
This study is different from our surveys of the U.S. public as a whole. It examines what is known as an “elite” or “special” population and focuses on the views and practices of working journalists as they relate to the news industry, not on their own political views or practices. In that respect, it’s similar to the Center’s 2017 survey of U.S. police officers, which also did not ask about party affiliation or ideology.
But we did ask a number of questions about how journalists’ political leanings might relate to the news environment today. That included questions about whether journalists think they should and are able to keep their own views out of their reporting, whether they can largely agree on the basic facts of a story, and whether it’s a problem when like-minded people get news from the same news outlets. We also asked whether journalists think the audience of the news outlet they work for leans one way or the other politically.
What do you hope journalists and non-journalists alike take away from this survey?
There are so many fascinating findings that I would not want to focus on just one. Instead, I hope readers consider these findings alongside the Center’s other journalism research to better understand the dynamics of newsrooms today, including journalists’ passion for their job, their relationship with the public, the impact of new technology and the challenges journalists face today. And please watch for more analyses that dive into findings that we didn’t address in detail in this initial report. Overall, we hope this study will remain a core reference point for years to come.