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Jan. 26, 2022, 2:51 p.m.

Are you passionate about journalism? Job ads and hiring editors sure want you to be

News outlets seem to want “passion for the work” above all else in who they hire. But all that passion comes with an unhealthy price tag.

Are you passionate about journalism?

Is it all you think about, day and night? Is there no greater rush than hitting publish on a big scoop? Is telling true stories about your fellow humans an obsession for you, a mission, your raison d’être?

I bet a decent number of people reading this would say yes. (Or, at a minimum, “Putting it that way makes it sound creepy, but yeah, I guess.”) But how about this one:

Are you passionate about your current job in journalism?

Is covering suburban sewer district meetings what you’ve always dreamed of doing? Is it thrilling to guess which one of your newsroom friends will get laid off next? Did your childhood list of life goals include “lightly rewriting wire copy about more exciting things happening in more exciting places”?

There’s almost always a gap between how you feel about your profession, defined broadly, and now you feel about your current, specific employment situation. Sometimes, it’s the specific job that you feel better about: “Sure, the work’s boring — but the benefits are amazing, it’s an easy commute, and all my friends work there.” But it’s more often the other way around, and potential employers know that connecting with that broader passion can be useful in attracting people to their specific jobs.

So I was intrigued to see this recent paper from the Scandinavian quartet of Carl-Gustav Lindén, Katja Lehtisaari, Mikko Grönlund, and Mikko Villi, published in Journalism Studies. It uses a unique approach to look at the role of “passion” in journalism hiring. The abstract:

This article focuses on the role of passion in news journalism from a managerial perspective.

The analysis is based on a data set of 40,621 web-based job advertisements obtained from Journalismjobs.com, from the year 2002 to 2017. The quantitative analysis shows that passion has been on the rise, as only 4% of the job advertisements in 2002 asked for “passionate” journalists, increasing to almost 16% in 2013.

The authors also performed a qualitative analysis of job advertisements mentioning the word “passion” for the periods 2002–2003 and 2017. These advertisements express a shift from a normative role of journalists to journalism as an activity: when mentioned within the context of personal character, the desired temperament of journalists has given way to descriptions of desired behavior.

The normative focus on journalism as an ideal has decreased while the focus on performance — that journalists should feel passionate about reporting and storytelling — has risen dramatically. In the texts, passion emerges as something that can be applied in a range of contexts as a strategic resource. The findings point to commodification of feelings and exploitation of emotional labour in journalism.

(Listen, kid, your mistake was having an emotion in the first place. That’s how they get you!)

So “passion” has rocketed up the charts as a quality expected of journalists since the early 2000s. (Interestingly their data shows the term peaking in 2013, but then dropping off in 2017; maybe Year 1 of President Donald Trump recalibrated people’s hunger for things to be passionate.)

The paper’s data ends in 2017. So as a little experiment, I decided to look at data for job ads today, in 2022. And holy moly, the bosses really want you to be passionate.

Over the past two weeks, there have been 293 new jobs advertised on JournalismJobs.com. A whopping 155 of them include the word “passion,” “passions,” or “passionate” somewhere in the ad copy.

That’s 53 percent! (I’m not certain whether there’s really been that much movement or whether I’m looking at the data differently somehow from the authors. I should also note that while the vast majority of jobs listed on JournalismJobs.com are for, well, journalists, there are also some in there for non-editorial roles at media company — things like ad sales rep, marketing associate, digital account executive, or research analyst.)

What, exactly, do these ads want you to be passionate about? Speaking truth to power? Comforting the afflicted, afflicting the comfortable? Filing clean copy and not making snarky tweets about your editor? It depends. I pulled out a few dozen of those passion-laden job ads to search for some common threads; more on that below. But first, let me give you a few of my favorite bits of the paper.

Passion is a wonderful thing. But it’s hardly essential in a job. Billions of people have jobs that do not make their hearts go a-flutter, and there’s no shame in it. There are plenty of other places to derive meaning in your life. But changes in the field of journalism in recent decades have given passion a bigger place in the field.

The decline of local news has meant being a journalist is more likely to require moving to another city — a thing you might not be willing to do for a profession you’re meh about.

Journalists have, on net, become significantly more educated — but compared to people with similar education levels, their salaries have fallen behind. A reporting job has become an economically irrational choice for more potential journalists, disproportionately weeding out the less passionate among them.

And the Internet has blurred the edges of many journalism jobs that used to have fairly defined boundaries — jobs that started when you arrived in the newsroom and ended when you got in your car to go home. That’s a caricature, of course — news has always broken around the clock — but the digital era has made it more like a 24/7 responsibility than it was in the days when the presses only ran once a day.

Here’s how the paper’s authors look at it:

We trace the rise of passion in news media to the attention economy, social and digital media, together with passion in entrepreneurship. This combination is the mix that makes up the so-called Silicon Valley discourse. It is celebrated in the ethos of entrepreneurial journalism in which an entrepreneurial skill set — and mind set — is seen as being vital to the renewal and future of the journalistic field.

As Deuze and Prenger note: “Passion is the extreme emotional energy that keeps the engine running, both in terms of how workers make sense of themselves and their role in the ‘creativity machine’ of the media industries, and how the work gets ‘sold’ to newcomers and outsiders: as something you have to be passionate about.”

According to Deuze and Prenger, media work becomes a “passion project,” not just in the way of work but as a key part of professional identity.

Print newspapers and TV news were delivered in structured ways in structured times. The audience was abstract and remote; maybe you got a phone call or two the next day, but feedback was limited. Today, digital news is always and everywhere, and readers are having emotional reactions to your work right on your screen. And those emotions matter a lot more in a world with infinite competition. That’s pushed news into a more emotional space, they argue:

Some of the forerunners in audience engagement are US-based digital news start-ups such as BuzzFeed, Quartz and Voice of San Diego that have built their business models on emotions and integrated it in their editorial processes, with sophisticated readership metrics to track the impact. At Quartz, reporters are free to choose the subjects they care most about (their so-called “obsessions”) if they are related to the business topics Quartz covers.

And looking at the audience, Quartz sees “love” as a foundation for the business model. According to Sari Zeidler, its former director of growth: “We can see how often people are returning and what journey they’re taking down the funnel, but what we really want to know is do they love us, and how do we impact them? That’s what journalism is about: Did we have an impact on their life?”

At Voice of San Diego, passion has almost been institutionalized in the guidelines for reporters: “Care about your beat more than anyone else. It is your way to make San Diego a better place to live.”

Hence the increased relative supply of passion among journalists and the increased relative desire for passion among publishers.

[Over the period studied], there is a trend from passion as temperament (passive) towards preferred behavior (active). In other words, there seems to be a shift in market value from who journalists are to what they do. That means going from a normative to a performance approach, going from journalism as role conception and rhetoric to practice.

Advertisements tend to carry stereotypical expressions such as “passion and imagination,” “passion and curiosity is key,” “passion, vision and a knack for…,” “passion, skills and collaborative spirit.” The need for a certain personality is sometimes deliberately exaggerated. In 2002, the preferred personality was described as: “You love your job, and your colleagues and readers know it. In fact, they can’t help getting caught up in your enthusiasm.”

Samples from 2017 include the following text, which points to passion as an active, goal-directed trait and a source of motivational energy: “If you’re someone who loves to get people excited about grabbing their piece of the pie in this complex world, who’s fanatical for assisting others to get the most out their time and efforts, but can maintain a sense of humor no matter what level of chaos is going on around you, talk to us.”

Another example also looked for a journalist that had “passion for identifying unexpected growth opportunities.” These are goal-directed cognitions and behaviors that can be linked to entrepreneurial journalism. Passion also turns into a “performative term” that captures commitment to the employer’s needs and values.

Passions have become less beat-specific and more…sociological.

The demand for journalists who are passionate about a certain topic and beat decreased overall between 2002/2003 and 2017, but it is especially interesting to note that passion for sport has lost its dominance as have passion for hobby and lifestyle, while passion for society has risen.

What we see is a shift towards passion for a wide area covering politics and economics but also other topics such as education. Here are two examples from 2002/2003: “Smart, hungry, entrepreneurial reporters needed. Must have passion for business and business journalism” and “passion for progressive politics.” In 2017, “a passion for social and economic policy” was for instance required, as well as “a passion for government.”

And there’s more emotion everywhere. Reading your town’s only newspaper in 1983 didn’t require you to passionately love it, to prefer it over all other possible options; it was a utility. But today, a news outlet wants your love — at least up to the level where you hand over your credit card number and pay.

Expressions of emotion are playing an increasingly important part in the business model of the news media as people’s time and emotions have become a commodity in the attention economy. While “the emotional turn” in journalism has been traced to the increasing influence of social media and the changing affordances of digital journalism, we also see the rise of passion in journalism as a process simultaneous with the emergence of the Silicon Valley culture of passion and entrepreneurialism and the platformization of cultural industries such as news media.

Lots more interesting stuff in the full paper — I recommend it.

Okay, back to the job ads. So what did I find down in the passion mines of journalism hiring in 2022? First off, in some cases the passion these hiring editors are talking about isn’t even yours. It’s the passion of the people who already work there.

Contribute to a mission-driven organization with a diverse and inclusive team of people who are passionate about helping news organizations build financial sustainability—because the public deserves access to quality journalism.

Our newsroom values innovation, voice, competition and, most importantly, a shared passion for journalism.

We are passionate about what we do here and are committed to both serving readers and helping our journalists develop new skills.

You have the opportunity to work with a team filled with spirit, passion and imagination.

We’re a team that is passionate about bringing transparency to tax systems, and just as passionate about cultivating an environment that embraces collaboration and innovation.

You will work with knowledgeable and passionate team members and enjoy a competitive compensation package, including health, dental, life and disability insurance, 401(k) Plan and match, paid short-term absences, holidays, vacation and more!

You’ll be joining a group of focused, hard-working, creative people who are passionate about doing work that’s challenging and fun—and who strive to maintain a healthy work/life balance.

Or even the passion of the institution itself.

We are a locally owned company that is proud of its passion and commitment to community journalism, holding in trust the Idaho County Free Press (established in Grangeville in 1886) and The Clearwater Progress (established in Kamiah in 1905).

But yes, most often, it’s your passion, Job Applicant, that is being sought.

What sort of passion? By some distance, the most common passion sought is for the somewhat airy notion of storytelling.

We seek a self-starter who is passionate about storytelling, adept at producing content on multiple platforms, enjoys newsroom collaboration and thrives in an innovative atmosphere.

We’re looking for a self-starter with natural curiosity and a passion for storytelling.

This editor is someone who cares deeply about supporting reporters to be the best journalists they can be; who holds themself and their reporters to high standards; and who is passionate about making sure the story is part of the storytelling.

The successful candidate must have initiative, energy, a good work ethic and be a passionate storyteller.

We’re looking for recent college graduates or early-career journalists with a passion for storytelling and in-depth reporting.

The person in this position will have a passion for storytelling and demonstrated ability to tell meaningful, longform multimedia stories and to turn packages linking CU Boulder experts to current events.

A passion for story telling is absolutely essential in this position.

[Qualifications]: Bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience in interactive media, journalism, communications or marketing, with a passion to bring good storytelling to a digital audience.

Up next is probably passion for journalism itself.

We seek a Director of SEO Strategy for our subscription sites who is passionate about local news, journalism, and service to our communities.

We are looking for a positive, organized self-starter with a passion for community journalism and an eye toward the future of the industry.

The successful candidate will have a passion for journalism, executive leadership experience, a track record of fundraising for mission-driven organizations and the talent to write extraordinary grant applications.

Upholding a resolute standard of accuracy, ethics and inclusiveness in coverage is paramount in this role. Ideally, you are also passionate about working for a locally owned news company on the cutting edge of developing a sustainable business model for local journalism.

Candidates must be passionate about community journalism, flexible in assignments and possess a strong command of AP style.

The successful candidate will have senior nonprofit leadership experience with a passion for journalism.

The successful candidate will need a college degree or equivalent experience, a passion for journalism and a reputation for quality and integrity.

The Spartanburg Herald-Journal is looking for an investigative public safety reporter who is passionate about watchdog and accountability reporting and is also adept at compelling writing that puts people at the heart of the story.

Sometimes, it’s specifically about passion for serving the community.

[The ideal candidate will have:] A passion for serving communities throughout Alabama and the South.

You must be smart, creative, relentless and passionate about telling our community’s stories in an impactful way.

Or about innovation, you old stick in the mud.

Upholding a resolute standard of accuracy, ethics and inclusiveness in coverage is paramount in this role. Ideally, you are also passionate about working for a locally owned news company on the cutting edge of developing a sustainable business model for local journalism.

[Skills and qualifications:] A passion for creativity, innovation, teamwork and customer service.

Or just WINNING THE MORNING!!!

Our anchors are leaders who participate in the planning of our shows and produce content regularly. A competitive passion to win and openness to innovation is mandatory!

Some sought-after passions are supposed to be about a specific topic or issue tied to the job.

Associate Marquee Sports Network seeks an Associate Producer, with strong knowledge of television production, and a willingness to be a part of a fun, award-winning energetic production team that has a passion for baseball.

[Experience/qualifications:] A passion for reporting on economic populist ideas in the context of our broader mission to advocate for economic justice for the working class.

The ideal candidate should have a deep understanding and passion for film, TV, and music.

If you truly love print design and have a passion for interior design, this role is for you.

An ideal candidate would have the passion to write about the role of money in the everyday lives of San Diegans, from making ends meet in our high-cost housing market to income inequality to how young professionals are paying down student loans.

We are particularly interested in candidates who are passionate and knowledgeable about US electoral politics or current political and social movements or about Black history, culture, and politics.

The ideal candidate is an experienced local news editor, with an entrepreneurial spirit and a passion for all things Seattle.

(Sometimes surprising topics.)

The ideal candidate will have passion for and experience with weather extremes, and the ability to calmly describe intense weather developments with accuracy and clarity.

Other job ads seek passion for a specific skill or element of the job.

[Requirements:] A passion for engaging readers via newsletters.

[Who you are:] A deep passion for data and looking for insights in numbers; experience with Google Analytics or Adobe Analytics required.

We’re seeking an individual who is passionate about getting into production, is organized, has an excellent work ethic and a willingness to learn.

Sometimes the pitch is that your passions, whatever they might be, can probably be integrated into the job.

You will be able to follow your passion subjects as well as discuss the most important issues facing Colorado and the West.

While education is the primary focus, there is also room for coverage in other areas, depending on the interests and passions of the right candidate. Our most recent reporter also helped with coverage in sports and arts and entertainment.

Sometimes, well, there’s just a lot of passion to go around.

If you are passionate about arts and culture — and how they tell the stories of a community, Colorado Public Radio News is looking for you…You are passionate about audio — or excited to learn. You are passionate about writing.

[Skills and qualifications:] Passionate self-starter who approaches work with a proactive, campaign-style mindset…Experience in and passion for long-term audience growth, including driving organic/paid audience to digital sites, increasing followers on social media, and converting engaged users into the user database…Passion for technology with working knowledge and insight of current best practices, technology trends and solutions

Sometimes you wish there’d been a little more passion put into editing the ad copy.

We are looking for someone passionate about community journalism who has the ability to share compleling [sic] stories that happen every day.

Were [sic] passionate about identifying audiences were not reaching yet and involving them in our reporting process.

The right candidate will be passionate about storytelling, maintain a standard of excellence and watchdog journalism.

Or at least sentence length.

The right candidate would be passionate about directing our newsroom in accurate, comprehensive breaking news coverage, daily general assignment and government reporting, as well as deeper project and enterprise reporting, and would work with our regional digital producer on video, audio, social media and audience development.

The Dallas Morning News is searching for a Senior Digital Director who has a passion for digital storytelling in a results-oriented environment, who can inspire and lead multiple teams to communicate and engage with new audiences and who has experience shaping the strategic vision for digital growth in a large metro newsroom filled with talent in the newsy state of Texas and in particular in North Texas.

It’s good that there are journalists with an all-consuming passion for their work. But the pandemic has made it clear to millions that a job doesn’t have to be the center of their lives, at least not in the same way as before. Work-life balance, remote working, and integrating the demands of job and family are now bigger parts of the conversation.

And “passion” is sometimes code for “has the ability to suffer through tiny salaries for ten years before ‘making it'” — and that’s an ability that isn’t equally distributed among all parts of society. Passion is, at some level, a willingness to suffer for your work. It might be noble, but giving it too much weight in hiring is a recipe for exhaustion, burnout, and newsrooms that don’t look like their audiences.

Photo by Amtec Photos used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Jan. 26, 2022, 2:51 p.m.
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