Why Do More Newsrooms Seem
To Be So Toxic These Days?

Why Do More Newsrooms
Seem To Be So Toxic
These Days?

Written by Lois Lane
🕒 June 23, 2020

The more local TV station reviews you read on this website, the more one single word seems to pop up in the description: Toxic.

So, it begs the question: Has the work environment around local TV News taken a devastating nose dive, or are employees using that buzz word to describe a different phenomenon?

The answer may be both.

For example: Ellen works as an MMJ in a mid-sized market, where she’s asked to turn a package, and a VO/SOT, for the 5 p.m. slot Monday through Friday.

By Friday, Ellen’s imagination has all but run dry. Her stress and anxiety, from covering protests and the coronavirus day-in and day-out, is through the roof. She’s also feeling bitter, because her hard work only earned a single “atta girl” all week.

If you relate to Ellen that’s no surprise, because the way this industry has transformed over the
years means a lot of us in local news feel like Ellen.

In its hay-day, TV newsrooms had much larger staffs who bore the day’s work in a more shared way.

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I know this from speaking with those who worked in the industry in the 1970s, and a lot has changed.

One of the biggest changes is a greater expectation of output from a smaller pool of staff, which you already know. However, another important change is a pool of staff that tends to be very young and green, even in bigger markets.

In an effort to curb costs even further, markets that once required some degree of professional experience are now extending job offers to people who have yet to accept their diplomas.

Experienced staff come at a cost, and those reporters, producers and photographers with longer resumes often know their worth. Hiring young staff definitely has its drawbacks, but many news directors are now accepting those shortcomings as a necessary side effect of a reduced budget.

The fact that news teams are now younger and smaller than ever is important, because that can impact the overall morale of the newsroom.

For instance, if Ellen had experienced a smaller market, where she had a chance to learn and
make mistakes, she might have a better tool box for dealing with her workload at her current station. She might also have the confidence to approach her news director, or manager, to discuss her failing physical and mental health and find a solution to it.

With no experience or confidence to draw from, Ellen is more likely to continue on with the hefty workload, become bitter, and find herself typing the words “toxic work environment” in a review of her station.

On the flip side of this, the financial implications on newsrooms also leads to younger and less experienced managers. Some newsrooms now employ executive producers, assignment editors, and even news directors who are in their mid-20s. That’s not to say a person of that age is incapable, but, again, it comes back to experience.

Without lived experience in managing personalities, assessing appropriate workloads, and responding to emerging issues, that young manager may let things slide that ultimately will break overworked employees at any age.

When confronted with certain issues, an inexperienced EP, or assignment editor, may take personal offense instead of compartmentalizing this issue as a workflow problem. It’s not just younger staff who may be contributing to this issue. Older staff, who have left years of problems and personal slights unaddressed, may be bitter by now and spreading that disdain with colleagues.​

All of this said, a newsroom may truly be toxic for a number of reasons…

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…From inappropriate relationships, to unacceptable demands, to negligent behavior.

There are countless horror stories of the news director who had a sexual relationship with a subordinate, or an anchor who partied too much and came to work drunk. Don’t forget the producer who constantly picked fights with MMJs for no particular reason.

Since TV News is an industry built on relationships and communication, it should come as no surprise that these two qualities may be the downfall of a newsroom’s overall health.

Besides that, the nature of the work we do is inherently stressful and overwhelming, which could lead any sound-mind to crack over time without proper care.

It’s important to recognize whether the perceived toxicity of the newsroom is an issue of inexperience and misunderstandings or a matter of poor leadership and incompetence. The former can be handled when communication is improved but the latter may be a situation best left behind.

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