Why I Left The Media Industry After 10 Years

Since I was 15, I have wanted to become a journalist. Now, I say farewell to journalism, the industry that provided great experiences but also a lot of frustration.

Why I Left The Media Industry After 10 Years

Prologue

For years, if anyone asked me whether I could picture myself doing anything other than journalism, I categorically denied it.

Despite knowing that the media industry was a stressful environment undergoing a disruptive change, I still was intrigued by this industry in disruptive change. I wanted to become a part of that change and help shape the future of journalism.

However, after about a decade, I had enough. And although I had incredible opportunities, unforgettable moments, and great colleagues in every single company I worked for, the following post focuses on the negative that drove me out of the industry.

It's a highly subjective, personal, and biased account. Maybe a small reckoning.

Part I: Exciting Beginnings

My career as a journalist began as classic as possible. Never knowing what I should become, I signed up as a reporter for the school's newspaper because I had always had a passion for writing and storytelling. Then, it suddenly dawned on me that journalism is an actual job. I've found my calling.

But I was a lazy teenager and dropped out of school, starting an apprenticeship in 2009. Nevertheless, I had my goal and was eager to get a foot in the door. I started writing short band biographies for a concert photographer and freelanced for some webzines and a local paper. In 2010, I founded my magazine, Negative White, together with my brother, who had just bought his first camera.

These early years were shaped by curiosity, the excitement of the unknown, many mistakes and learning by doing. Most of the time, I didn't know what I was doing. But I had fun and could follow my passion. My magazine grew an audience and other volunteers. Two years in, I even had the opportunity to interview Sir Paul McCartney.

I became a member of the young media association, now called Junge Journalistinnen und Journalisten Schweiz (JJS), and began to grow my network. In 2013, I started studying journalism and communication. As part of the curriculum, I gained my first experience in editorial offices at the Swiss national broadcaster SRF and a local paper.

Part II: First Cracks

The internship at SRF was a wild ride with a committed team. I was never really interested in television, but I learned to love video content. And although I would stay at the news bulletin 10vor10 at the desk, the first cracks in my journalism dream started to show.

In hindsight, I had terrible tasks as an intern. It was the peak of ISIS, and I had to plough a whole day through propaganda material. Eight hours of beheadings, mass executions, and other glorified violence.

Working at the desk after the internship has been a thrill. Being part of live broadcast productions is an adrenaline-spilling affair. As a desk employee, I was the right hand of the producers, fact-checking, establishing connections to the correspondents, ensuring the correct timings of the lower thirds, writing online texts, and more—a great responsibility.

However, there was a lot of fluctuation in the team, which directly impacted the programme's quality. Often, the people at the desk were students, aspiring journalists who wanted to gain storytelling experience that they couldn't get at the job. So I drafted a proposal for the editor to allow us to create two stories a year. He declined and said: "This is a support job, and it will forever be one."

My encounter with the editor was the first that embodied an outdated management style characterised by a refusal to change, holding on to power, and sometimes unsettling behaviour.

As an online journalist, I still struggled with an older editor who told me we should do "more with boobs" online to boost clicks.

At the interview for my next job at another local paper, the editor-in-chief asked me about my political affiliation. After I dodged the question several times, he said: "If you had to choose to become a member of a political party or get stoned, which party would it be?" – I said: "I choose the stoning."


After being a journalist for a couple of years, I was less and less interested in writing about things I didn't really care about. I fully knew what I was getting into when I chose journalism as a career. It's a stressful job that makes it incredibly hard to have a proper work-life balance. Most companies don't have actual—and, by the way, legally required—time reporting. Instead, the system merely puts in standard daily hours to comply without accurately representing the work done. But many journalists I know have easily 100 hours of overtime.

The job also got more complex, requires more skills, but isn't that well-paid nor a highly regarded profession nowadays. Journalists used to have just one thing to do: tell the story. Today, you're expected to take photos, shoot videos, and post on social media.

In many regards, I've always been fascinated by these new facets. I saw it as an opportunity to learn new skills and maybe discover new areas I could excel. But there's no way around it: A lot of additional work is put onto journalists because fewer people are working in newsrooms.

However, I still felt that the media industry was an exciting field despite its dire situation with declining revenue. That's why I joined Blick, first as a Project Manager in the newsroom, later as Head of Community, and then as Product Owner. I hoped that switching to a more background position would keep me happy for a long time.

Part III: Only Management, No Leadership

"It's not a shitty job; it's the shitty conditions and perspectives," said Simon Schaffer of JJS recently. It's a brutally honest and accurate statement.

Especially freelance journalists are at the very bottom of the food chain: Karin Wenger, a friend and a freelance reporter covering the Middle East, tells me that she has to use a lot of her ever-smaller salary to cover travel expenses as most of the newsrooms scraped the budgets for things like travel and translators long time ago. It's madness.

I've written about mental health problems in the media industry before. However, I again experienced first-hand and by many accounts in the last few months how devastating the lack of leadership can be to people. I know many journalists who had burnout at around 30 [German] and had to get professional help. Or they even began abusing alcohol [German].

Watch more personal accounts by young journalists here. [German]

I regularly talk to talented reporters who feel similar: Yes, journalism is their calling. And yet, only a couple of years in, most of them are thinking about changing careers.

But who is ultimately responsible for working conditions that seem to make people sick or drive them out of their beloved field?

The management. And yes, I specifically use the term 'management' because there's a lack of true leadership in media companies. It's the main reason why I leave the media industry now.

Depressed journalist, according to Dall-E.

I won't go into detail about my experiences in various companies. It's not about individuals or instances but a more systemic issue. A synthesis of my own accounts and those of friends or students at MAZ, where I used to teach, paint a clear picture: It all boils down to a lack of trust in the employees and a missing vision and strategy to align efforts.

  • Safety over experimentation.
  • Stop doing is rarely a sincere option.
  • Great ideas get watered down through endless discussions.
  • No strategic approach to 'shiny new things' like TikTok.
  • Work done by internal teams gets challenged by expensive external agencies.
  • Reports are created for accountability rather than an opportunity to learn.
  • Expertise is less important than gut feeling.

At some points, I was amidst internal political struggles and personal agendas, but I had no interest in participating. It's wasting time and energy.

Leadership should provide an environment that empowers people and allows them to be at their natural best. And if a company hires, for example, an UI/UX designer, you should probably listen to their advice. Otherwise, why did you hire them in the first place? However, from my experience and what I regularly hear from friends and colleagues, micro-management is prevalent.

I fully recognise that the media industry is in a dire situation. Revenue is shrinking, and although alternative business models exist, there's no one-size-fits-all solution. The broader media and information landscape has constantly been disrupted for decades by new technologies and platforms. Change is a constant, requiring a new kind of leadership mindset, organisational structure, and corporate culture. But frankly, media companies are still managed like 30 years ago.

The declining trust in journalistic work is a fundamental challenge for the industry. And I began to realise that if an organisation cannot create that trust within itself, it's probably futile to build it towards the institution.

After a Covid bump, trust in news is further declining in Switzerland. Source: Digital News Report 2022

Epilogue

After only a bit more than four years, I decided to leave Blick. I was disillusioned, frustrated by the media industry, and physically and psychically exhausted. In the mornings, I was almost unable to get out of bed. I didn't feel any joy because I couldn't do my job properly. I felt an impending burnout.

I was done fighting, especially after having already spent a lot of energy to get recognised with the Community team I helped build. Despite working alongside hugely talented and committed people, I felt that I couldn't give enough anymore that I was satisfied with myself. It's a sad realisation, yet it also gave me a weird sense of calmness.

With just three bigger media companies left (two of them I've already experienced), I only wanted to get out of the industry I worked hard to get into years ago. And I'm glad I'm out because it began eroding my passion for writing and journalism.

Employee retention is another challenge closely connected to the company culture and trust. It gets harder and harder to find interns, and a quick check of medienjobs.ch reveals that attractive offerings remain open for months. When looking for my first full-time job, I hardly saw any open positions.

Last year, every week, a journalist left the field in Switzerland. The media magazine persoenlich.com is running a series of interviews with former journalists. So it should be an eery wake-up call for all brands and the industry that there's a problem. Simon Sinek said it perfectly:

"The Great Resignation is an indictment on decades of substandard corporate culture and poor leadership."

Being a journalist has been and will always be an exciting profession. But today's ecosystem is failing the people and employees. Maybe these big legacy brands need to vanish and make space for something new if they're unwilling to fundamentally change how they do business. I certainly will miss journalism but not the system that produces it today.