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  • Writer's pictureMike Petchenik

Why Burnout Could Hurt Democracy

A report out this week says burnout in local television newsrooms is at an all-time high. Take it from someone who's been there and done that, the report is sadly right on the money.

Some key take--a-ways:

  • More than two-thirds (68.9%) of all TV news directors say staff burnout is worse now than it was one year ago.

  • Almost nine out of ten news directors (88.8%) say they’re trying to do something about it, and their tactics vary. Some are making substantive changes to salaries and schedules, and others are offering more mental health resources to staff.

  • Others still have taken more creative approaches to boost staff morale: a fun committee, gym memberships, cake, pizza, staff potlucks and midday nature walks.

News managers are reporting seeing some of these trends:

  • Employees quit, they "quiet quit," they cry in my office, they call out more often than is usual for them, they complain to me and to each other, etc.

  • We are stretched too thin and that gets worse each year. Further, it's nearly impossible to get applicants anymore. We have jobs posted for months before we even see one application, let alone a good one.

  • This business is broken, and if something is not done soon, at the top, television news will go the same way newspapers have.

  • People are just exhausted.

In 2021, I was exhausted after a year of COVID-19 coverage and nearly four years of being called “fake news” one too many times.


It came to a head one night when I was called in to work to cover a shooting at a local mall and a security guard attacked me for taking video with my phone.

So, after more than 20 years as a street reporter, producer, and anchor, I made the tough decision to hang up my notepad and microphone; it wasn’t because I didn’t LOVE my job telling stories, holding powerful people accountable, and making an impact on my community.


I truly did enjoy the work and was very fulfilled.

But, like many of my former colleagues who exited stage left over the last decade, the hours, the daily grind, and feeling like I was always “on” took a toll, especially after I got married, had kids, and wanted to spend more time with my family.

Try telling your son you can’t go to his baseball game because someone got shot and you have to report live from the scene at 6:45 PM. See what I mean?

Here's another example:


One afternoon, our after-school babysitter had to leave early.

My wife, who works in healthcare, was called to the hospital for an emergency, and I was dispatched to cover an apartment fire at roughly the same time.

With nobody to watch the kids, my wife brought them to the nurses' station at the hospital where they played Candy Crush until I could break free from the story to come get them.

Most afternoons, my wife wouldn’t ask how my day was or what I was up to, her main question was: “from where will you be reporting live, at what time, and when do you think you’ll be home?”

While I applaud 9 out of 10 news managers who are really trying to “do something about it,” I believe it’s the “game” and not the “player” mostly to blame.

Anyone who works/worked in TV news knows between 4p and 7p, your life isn’t your own, and that only accounts for the hours during which many newscasts run, not the travel to and from story locations.

During “sweeps” periods in February, May, July, and November, it's next to impossible to take a vacation.

Even though markets such as Atlanta are “metered,” and sales teams can get instant ratings data, most stations still use those periods to showcase their best stuff, and that typically means staying fully staffed.

Look, I don’t envy today’s news managers. They have a monumental task to overcome, but I will offer my two cents on what might help keep your people happy:

  • Listen to them! If they’re telling you they’re burned out and need a break, let them take one!

  • Allow some of your field crews to pre-record their reports rather than forcing them to be “live" every day, especially at what I like to call “dog lick” locations (why does a dog lick themselves? Because they can.). That’ll afford some the ability to make it home at a reasonable time each day. You can rotate through the newsroom so everyone gets a chance.

  • Allow your people to take time off to rest and recharge, even if it means not having 20 reporters on the street every day. The world won’t melt if your producers aren’t packing their shows with talking heads.

  • At holiday time, don’t give out a grocery store gift card or a pre-paid credit card to “thank” your team for their hard work all year. Stations are making BILLIONS of dollars. Share the love like the rest of corporate America does. When people feel valued, they’ll work harder.

Even if you don’t work in the business or know someone who does, this newsroom burnout issue should concern anyone who believes in the power of local journalism and freedom of the press.

If newsrooms can’t hire and/or keep qualified, quality journalists, then the quality of journalism will suffer, people will continue to leave the business, and ultimately stations will have to close their doors as many newspapers already have.


When that happens, democracy dies in the darkness.








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