Analysis Of Newspaper Journalists Motivation

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Newspaper journalists report on a broad range of subjects on a variety of scales. Low motivation can threaten a newspaper’s ability to remain competitive in the market (Küng, 2008); readers expect creative content encompassing controversial stories and pertinent issues (Saarikoski, 2011). Thus it is important to effectively address demotivation.

The job requires pursuing stories that are “complex” and “ill-defined”, employing “novel, useful solutions” to gather information (Mumford et al.,2002). Print circulation in Britain is declining (Saarikoshi, 2011), consequently, journalism has become highly competitive, increasing a desire to be the first to obtain the best stories. As such, working in the pursuit of ground-breaking stories has been identified as a key feature associated with journalists work motivation.

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Managers are driven by print deadlines, profitability and the logistics of newspaper production. They impose stringent deadlines in an attempt to outpace the constant breaking news on social media. This is associated with a greater reputational status and promotes newspaper reading. Subsequently, ‘short deadlines’ has been chosen as the second key feature associated with work motivation.


McClelland’s content theory (1961) is well suited to explaining the motivation of newspaper journalists, defining three motivators innate to all humans: the needs for achievement (nAch), affiliation (nAff) and power (nPow) (Harrell and Stahl, 1984). One will be a dominant motivator, reflective of an individual’s culture and experiences.

When addressing the pursuit of stories, a journalist’s nPow may be most prevalent. While they may not be incentivised to control people, they foster a strong sense of competition, striving to be the first to access new information. Additionally, the opportunity to write influential stories is a key component comprising nPow (McClelland and Burnham, 2003). Journalists can be motivated by pursuing lucrative stories with rewards being prizes, status or recognition (Royle and Hall, 2012). Motivation could therefore be increased by permitting them first access to new material, then allowing them to take praise for their work.

Newspaper journalists work to short deadlines; they are motivated in this instance by nAch. This is due to a desire to accomplish challenging, but not impossible goals. For example, journalists strive to produce quality stories within the same deadline as their colleagues (McClelland, 1987). Their nAch drives them to be the best in their field, this need is reflective of journalists preferring to work alone. They may also be required to take calculated risks in the form of ascertaining which stories will be the most relevant and can be completed within the given timeframe (Hansemark, 2003). Regular feedback is paramount to their motivation as positive comments affirm achievement (Vollmeyer and Rheinberg, 2005). To increase their motivation, frequent meetings could be organised to establish progress being made. Journalists could enter competitions or be given prizes, bonuses and accolades in recognition of their achievement and dedication, further motivating them. Promotions could also be offered; attaining a higher status is clear evidence of achievement.

However, McClelland’s theory has a number of limitations. Evidently, journalists are unlikely to be motivated by nAff; the profession does not require ‘fitting in’. To an extent, there is a high level of risk and uncertainty in the job; it is less about collaboration and more about competition. It does not account for motivators external to the job such as a need to provide for a family. The needs are also subconscious; we cannot be entirely certain of which is the most dominant.

Locke and Latham’s process theory on goal-setting is applicable to the motivation of newspaper journalists. Their need for recognition and challenges are cornerstones of their job while motivators can be in the form of winning prizes.

According to The New York Times, journalists are motivated by being the first to pursue a story or report on a topical issue, especially if their stories can influence people’s lives. Thus, journalists are less motivated by salaries and more by achieving goals set to make a difference in the world. Upon achieving goals, further motivation could be given in the form of space on the ‘front page’. While increasing motivation, goal-setting theory is also paramount to promoting commitment, productivity and performance. These all enhance job satisfaction, a key component of motivation which in turn provides drive to pursue lucrative, impactful stories.

This theory can also be used to increase motivation as meeting short deadlines is in itself a goal. Gaining commitment from a journalist who buys into achieving a goal increases the likelihood of success. For the goals to be effective, the journalists should identify and set specific, challenging, yet attainable, objectives. Additionally, resources should be provided to enable these goals to be met including feedback on progress which allows for re-establishing targets to maintain motivation. It is also paramount that in journalism goals are oriented towards learning rather than performance (Tsourvakas et al., 2004). Goals must be set with the intent to enable journalists’ personal development in the profession upon their completion.

Nonetheless, this theory has its limits. Goals are not uniform especially in the instance of short deadlines; some journalists may work towards longer features. There is also no opportunity to set group goals, a key component in developing overall motivation of an individual. In the pursuit of stories there is scope for unethical approaches to achieving such goals. It is important that the ultimate aim for producing stories relevant to the public does not become an oversight in achieving goals.


There is no single solution for improving motivation, however it is best to focus on the features that influence newspaper journalists most. They are innately goal oriented, thus suggesting that addressing their nAch and nPow may be most successful. Giving due praise, rewards and granting autonomy is crucial in improving motivation. Ultimately, journalists are motivated by pride, respect, recognition and job satisfaction (Appendix 1). This is reflected in reality as shown through the three journalists’ interviews (Appendices 2,3, and 4). Enabling them to access stories and providing the tools to achieve the goal of meeting short deadlines will undoubtedly lead to a more motivated workforce.


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