2022 American Journalist survey expands on half-century of research
A majority of journalists working in U.S. news media report facing verbal abuse, the gender pay gap in the field has nearly closed, and the number of journalists from marginalized backgrounds has increased in recent years, according to a study by Syracuse’s Lars Willnat and Media School emeritus professors Dave Weaver and Cleve Wilhoit.
“The American Journalist Under Attack” is a 2022 study part of a larger research effort spanning about half a century. The survey continues a series of major national studies of U.S. journalists in 1982, 1992, 2002 and 2013 by Wilhoit and Weaver. Their work drew on the model started in 1971 by sociologist John Johnstone.
“Our role is to try to provide the most up-to-date valid information about journalists we can,” said Weaver, a Distinguished and Roy W. Howard Professor Emeritus. “We hope this information will be used by people who are decision makers in the media to make journalism better.”
The American Journalist project has surveyed journalists since 1982, intending the sociological-style report to act as a long-term touchstone, Wilhoit said.
Weaver and Wilhoit have been “co-conspirators,” as Wilhoit coins the pair, on the project for decades. Both credit Willnat and the Syracuse research team for their leadership and work on the study. The pair met Willnat when he was a professor in the IU School of Journalism, before he worked at Syracuse.
The fifth segment of the broader research project, the 2022 study has the largest sample size of their work so far, with 1,600 journalists completing this year’s online survey. The researchers aim to keep their methodology as consistent as possible to ensure viable results, Weaver said.
“The big goal this time is to try to say something beyond what we have been able to marshal before about the role journalists perceive of themselves in the midst of a general institutional decline of trust in America, particularly with the press and also the threats facing democracy,” Wilhoit said. “So one of the goals this year is to try to peel back the onion a little bit and try to look at what journalists think about their role more deeply as it pertains to democratic values. And I think we’ve done that.”
The 2022 survey looks at journalism’s role in American democracy.
About 70% of respondents think they bear some responsibility for the challenges democracy is facing, Wilhoit said. Nearly all of the journalists say they believe journalism is a key part of democracy, according to the results.
The study included two open-ended questions asking respondents about the future of the field, especially regarding safeguarding democracy and improving public trust in the media.
“The results I find fascinating,” Wilhoit said.
About one-third of journalists say they believe the field should implement democracy as its own beat — a niche area specific reporters cover exclusively. Other respondents say it is an issue of doing “what we already do better,” he said, pointing to an evolving reporting style and increased connection with audiences.
The original survey of journalists in 1971 was conducted during a tumultuous time, echoing the same kind of stressors contemporary journalists face, Wilhoit said.
“So in a sense, you could think of the foundational period of the Johnstone work and our study this year as almost bookends,” he said.
Both Wilhoit and Weaver noted the extraordinary circumstances surrounding journalism in the 1970s and contemporary society.
“Our work this year is at a very similar time to the foundational work which gives it significance,” Wilhoit said.
Some key findings from the 2022 report:
- Most respondents — 60% — see journalism in the U.S. going in “the wrong direction.” The American public’s decline in trust is generally the highest concern for respondents.
- Newsrooms are still shrinking. Forty-four percent of respondents say their workforces have shrunk during the past year, and a little more than a quarter say their staff numbers remained the same. At the same time, nearly one-third of U.S. journalists report some growth, mainly in newsrooms of online organizations, radio stations and magazines.
- The number of women in U.S. journalism increased to 41% in 2022, up more than three percentage points from 2013.
- The number of minority journalists working for the U.S. news media has increased significantly — from 11% in 2013 to 18% in 2022 — but the total percentage of minority journalists is still not representative of the percentage of minority communities in the U.S. population at large.
- The gender pay gap has nearly closed in the field, with women earning about $400 less per year on average than their male colleagues.
- Most respondents politically identify as Independents or Democrats. In 2022, about 36% of U.S. journalists say they identify with the Democratic 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.
- Job satisfaction increased, from 23% of journalists saying 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 prior surveys in 2002 and 2013.
- The government “watchdog” role has expanded. More than 80% of journalists said investigating government claims is extremely important.
- About six in 10 journalists report they’ve received some sort of threat, ranging from verbal abuse, insults and intimidation to physical abuse.