Newspaper Journalists' Motivation

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National Careers Service website describe newspaper journalists as those who investigate and write on broad range of subjects, from reporting on international and local news to politics, business, science, sports, arts and culture.

Low motivation negatively impact work performance, which threatens an organisation’s ability to remain competitive in the market (Küng, 2008). Given fluctuating public attitudes and expectation on newspapers today, steady stream of creative content is more crucial than ever. Readers no longer look simply for the news, but expect their need for insights into controversial stories and prominent features on important and relevant issues to be fulfilled daily (Saarikoski, 2011).

Newspaper journalists are creative people producing creative work. Their job requires pursuing stories “complex” and “ill-defined” on outset, employing “novel, useful solutions” to gather information, often which are time-consuming, and take on “uncertainty” when stories not lead to much (Mumford et al.,2002). Managers, in contrast, are driven by print deadlines, wow-factor stories and logistics with newspaper production. Their diverging tasks cause friction when managers not sufficiently support their creative subordinates, such as tight deadlines incompatible to the stories’ development; pushing journalists to rush and submit underdeveloped work. Creative people are perfectionists; compelling them to produce sub-standard work is demotivating (Goffee and Jones, 2009).

Print circulation in Britain is declining, while digital subscription has yet to offset the losses. Consequently, newspapers have cut down on their print space, giving rise to over-saturated market and job redundancies (Saarikoshi, 2011). Journalism is highly competitive, filled with intelligent professionals adverse to economic risks (Gibbon, 1998). With stories fighting for content space and reduced choice on story freedom, this lowers motivation.


McClelland’s (1961) proposed theory on needs explains motivations of newspaper journalists well (McClelland, 2010). He describes three innate motivators; needs for achievement (nAch), affiliation (nAff) and power (nPow). He states when such need is strong, the person is motivated to behave in a way until that need is satisfied. Journalists characteristically find fulfilment with their project/cause, showing high nAch. nAff is attained through positive work culture (Mumford et al., 2002), and nPow is found through the level of colleague’s respect they gain (Goffee et al, 2009).

Conflict can still arise from these needs when incompatible deadlines are imposed. Journalists could refuse to submit their story, if they consider the work subpar. Manager’s uncompromising stance on deadlines can create negative work culture; diminishing journalist’s nAff to the organisation. If by submission journalists perceive damage to their reputation from their colleagues, they are discouraged from adhering to the deadline, demonstrating nPow. Hence, generating positive work environment, considering the autonomous nature of stories pursued, exchanging updates and honest feedbacks to adjust deadlines, are all crucial to re-motivate journalists (Tsourvakas, Veglis and Zotos.,2004; 91.3% wants to work without supervision, 82.5% required positive work environment, 94.4% indicated their colleagues’ opinions strongly motivating).

Regardless, there are also criticisms surrounding this theory (Gibson et al., 2000). Interpretations of individual’s subconscious needs are more art than science; nAch is subjective and cannot be quantified accurately; and research is needed to ascertain whether these needs prevail throughout the career.

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Locke’s theory on goal-setting states conscious goals and intentions determine behaviour; making goal an object of action to be accomplished (Locke, 1968). Under right conditions, goal-setting can be the most useful technique to motivate journalists. The following are practical suggestions for maximising motivation, commitment, productivity and task performance;

  • Specific goals; employees perform at higher levels when goals are specific. Journalists respond better to requests for alternative insights on controversial issues, which are quantifiable, rather than demands for unmeasurable “better” stories (Locke and Latham, 2002).
  • Difficult but attainable goals; too easily attained goals do not increase performance or motivation. Journalists have high self-efficacy and pride in attaining the “unattainable”, e.g exclusive interviews, first to report, etc, as they are more intrinsically motivated by their work (Pink, 2018).
  • Accepted goals; simply assigning goals to journalists do not encourage commitment, if opinions differ. Journalists are more goal-committed, if they participate at its setting, voicing out unreasonable to acceptable targets; particularly true for those with high self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997).

Feedback is crucial as it increases journalist’s performance, measures their level of output and determines adjustments needed for improvement, especially when associated with career progression opportunities (Tsourvakas et al., 2004).

Goals set for performance evaluation are more effective, if goal performance is evaluated on how they are attained. Again, linked to job rewards generate higher motivation (Tsourvakas et al., 2004).

Reasonable deadlines improve the rate on goal achievement. Although, work quality can suffer from uncompromising tight deadlines, with reasonable deadlines, they serve as time-control mechanisms which increase goal motivation.

Objectives on learning, not performance; journalists respond better to learning objectives, which encourage mastery over challenges, than simple attainment of set tasks. This is consistent with their creative nature for proactively solving problems, exploring ideas and adapting to changes (Luthans, 2011).

Goal-setting is not without limits however. It is difficult to sustain, it only works well with simple jobs for monetary rewards, but not for complex jobs such as journalism, where performance is not as easily measurable and financial rewards not the end-goal (Tsourvakas et al., 2004). Superficial goals can cultivate unethical behaviour; individuals could intentionally set lower goals to look good for promotion purposes, whilst pushing for unattainable goals towards their competition, highlighting competitor’s short-comings. Managers may use this to increase unnecessary control; generally abhorred by journalists (Saarikoski, 2011). Goal accomplishment itself could be an obsession, where other important job aspects are neglected consequently (Gibson et al.,2000).


There is no single solution for motivation improvement. Every organisation contends with their very unique set of issues, factors and culture; what worked for one may not necessarily work for others. However, broadly summarised; clear and honest communication, sharing information freely, acknowledging all achievements, giving due praise and reward equally, trusting journalists to widely work autonomously and never seeking micromanage their work, can all help to improve work motivation. A further list on motivating journalists can be found in Appendix 1.

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Newspaper Journalists’ Motivation. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 17, 2024, from
“Newspaper Journalists’ Motivation.” Edubirdie, 16 Jun. 2022,
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Newspaper Journalists’ Motivation [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 16 [cited 2024 May 17]. Available from:

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