Copy editors and the risk of burnout

Copy editors are more emotionally exhausted than reporters

Author: Betsy B. Cook and Steven R. Banks

Publication: Predictors of Job Burnout in Reporters and Copy Editors, Journalism Quarterly, volume 70, no. 1 (spring 1993), p. 113.

In a study of 110 newspaper journalists, copy editors had significantly higher levels of emotional exhaustion than the reporters. The authors gave the Maslach Burnout Inventory, a widely used psychological test, to journalists at five daily newspapers ranging in circulation from 23,110 to 252,260 and found that copy editors also ranked higher than reporters on depersonalization, “an unfeeling and impersonal response toward the recipients of one’s service, treatment or instruction.” The most likely journalist to suffer from burnout, they concluded, is a young, entry-level copy editor working at a small newspaper.

Work environment is key

Authors: Betsy B. Cook, Steven R. Banks and Ralph J. Turner

Publication: The Effects of Work Environment on Burnout in the Newsroom, Newspaper Research Journal, volume 14, nos. 3 and 4 (summer-fall 1993), pp. 130-131.

Resisting burnout requires a sense of involvement in one’s work, a high degree of co-worker and supervisor support, a strong sense of personal autonomy and a sense of physical comfort.

Copy editors, however, were found to be less satisfied with their work environment and feel less involved, less encouraged to make their own on-the-job decisions and less physically comfortable than reporters, according to this study of 120 copy editors and reporters from 10 daily newspapers of a variety of sizes.

The authors suggested that to retain good editors, managers need to be more supportive and find ways to increase copy editors’ involvement in decision-making. Other steps for reducing burnout, they said, are assuring efficiency and good planning, explicitly defining rules and policies, and providing a pleasant and comfortable work environment.

Supervisors affect burnout rates among copy editors

Authors: Betsy B. Cook, Steven R. Banks and Brad Thompson

Publication: Copy Desk Leader Behaviors/Copy Editor Job Stress: The Relationship of Copy Desk Leader Behaviors to Job Stress, Hardiness and Health Factors in Copy Editors, paper presented to the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication 1995 convention, available in the AEJMC archives.

Copy desk supervisors can influence how burned-out copy editors feel. Cook, Banks and Thompson found that copy editors who viewed their supervisors as representative of the copy desk reported feelings of greater personal accomplishment in their jobs. Feelings of personal accomplishment in copy editors also were greater when copy editors thought that their supervisors:

- Tolerated uncertainty and postponement without anxiety or upset.

- Used persuasion and argument effectively and had strong convictions.

- Clearly defined roles and expectations.

- Actively exercised leadership.

- Regarded the comfort and well-being of copy editors highly.

- Predicted outcomes correctly.

- Maintained a closely knit organization and resolved conflicts.

- Had cordial relationships with their superiors.

- Allowed for initiative, decision and action among group members.

The study noted that some “disgruntlement” on the copy desk may unavoidable: “Copy desk work attracts perfectionists; the nature of the work is to find and correct problems. This will never change. But good leadership practices may go a long way toward helping copy editors be healthy, productive employees.”

Those leadership practices included these “concrete steps” that newspaper management can take to avoid burnout on the copy desk:

- Give copy desk supervisors enough authority so that copy editors feel that dealing with supervisors has a legitimate chance of effecting change. Encourage supervisors to represent the interests of copy editors; do not dismiss their concerns.

- Do not countenance poor supervision on the copy desk. An authoritarian or ungrateful manager can lower the morale of the whole desk. Hire supervisors who garner the respect of their staff.

- Rotate copy editors through pagination and training in other new technologies so that no one feels left behind by technology and so that more empathy is felt for those doing different jobs.

- Increase staffing on the copy desk commensurate with staff decreases in engraving and paste-up departments made possible by new technologies.

- Provide continuing training so that new employees become well-versed in all areas of copy desk responsibility.

- Pay overtime wages.

The study also offered these steps that copy editors can take:

- Tell supervisors what is needed to get the job done.

- Train for new duties. Think of new technologies such as pagination as opportunities for lifelong learning.

- Take time to do a professional job in which you can take pride.

- When burned out, move on. Journalism is good training for other careers.

- Shrug off criticism that are not well founded.

- Maintain a healthy lifestyle outside work.

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