Last year, journalists were heavily relied upon to keep America briefed within 24-hour news cycles covering the COVID-19 crisis, a presidential election and so much more. This opened up the conversation around mental health for journalists. While viewers have the chance to unplug from the media, this is not the case for reporters covering crucial stories.
Based on a 2020 survey conducted by Reuters, out of 73 journalists, 70% of respondents showed signs of anxiety and depression due to reporting on the pandemic. What does mental health care look like for student and professional journalists alike? Lack of diversity in the newsroom, a saturated job market, and simply recognizing that journalists are human were all concerns brought up in my conversations with three journalists in various stages of their career.
Boundaries in the workplace have become more prioritized during the pandemic. The lines of when work begins and ends become blurrier. How do you say no to a news assignment when swamped with school, children, or simply just taking care of you? Mion Edwards, digital researcher at Today Digital, said the key is to be “honest, open, and transparent with those on your team”. She suggests learning to master the art of the no that still ensures the work is getting done – be “solution minded”.
USC journalism student and co-founder of The Student Journalism Wellness Project, said there is a false narrative that “if you can’t hustle now, how will you be able to do it later?”
Dr. Glenda Gordon, chief medical officer of 180 Health Partners, said the “do whatever it takes” trait many journalists adopt is detrimental to their mental wellbeing. “When boundaries are blurred, we make choices that do not serve us well and do not honor our true priorities. To keep those boundaries firmly intact, one might consider protecting time outside of work. Although this can be difficult to carve out initially, setting aside completely work-free time daily, monthly and annually, could be a first step,” Gordon said.
DEALING WITH REJECTION
According to Axios, the first 6 months of 2020 brought over 11,000 newsroom job losses. The countless applications for that first job out of college and getting passed over to another candidate or pitching another piece to an editor to receive yet another no – dealing with rejection is part of the journey as a journalist.
Yukta Ramanan, a high school senior, student journalist and founder of Youth for Ethical Sourcing, says that ‘COVID opened new avenues for new perspectives.’
So, even if those first few pitches do not work out, she encourages her peers to keep pushing because “there’s always more to write about”. And when you do find yourself getting a large volume of rejection, “take a break”.
While you are applying to the next dream job, Edwards suggests that the job market has nothing to do with your skills and abilities as a journalist. Sometimes it is luck mixed in with perfect timing. She says, to don’t fall victim to imposter syndrome, “you were called for a reason.”
FIND COPING MECHANISMS
As journalists we must remember that we are only human. Burnout is possible and feeling overwhelmed after a long news day can eventually take a long-term toll on one’s mental health. Dr. Glenda Gordon suggests finding “positive coping skills” in order “to process difficult experiences and emotions” such as, opening up to trusted colleagues, journaling, regular daily exercise, healthy diet and “investing in individual psychotherapy”. A recommendation from Edwards: “knowing when to turn it on and off” and find your silver lining. For her, it’s family time, not putting too much pressure on herself, and finding activities that bring her joy.
KNOW YOUR WHY
Newsrooms across the nation have worked on creating a more inclusive and diverse work environment, but there are still improvements to be made.
According to statistics by RTDNA, as of 2020 caucasians makeup 73.40% of the television news workforce, with African Americans consisting of 13.3% in the average newsroom. The main question that Student Journalism Wellness Project co-founder, Bettendorf, says initiated the online toolkit was, “How can we make the newsroom more sustainable?”
Working in a toxic newsroom environment can be burdening on a fellow journalist’s mental health and zeal to do the work. Bettendorf suggests that we focus on creating “an atmosphere of support” and “acknowledging the humanity of others”. But, when you work in the daily grind of media and the pressures that come with it – all three journalists expressed that you must know your why.
When you know your mission, you will be able to contribute to the newsroom of tomorrow. Edwards says her mission is to share “diverse narratives and stories with the world” and “tell the most accurate stories.” Bettendorf hopes the future of journalism is “more colorful” in representation across the board, “better support systems in the newsroom” and that student journalists know “journalism will be better because they are in it.” For Ramanan, her advice to young journalists – “whatever role your journalism takes, know your work is needed”, and encourages to not quit – “stick through it”.
For more conversations related to the topics discussed in this article, please check out the following SPJ 2021 Journalism Conference Sessions below:
Prioritizing Your Mental Health: Invest in Your Own Mental Health – Thursday at 2pm ET
Empowering All Students In College Newsrooms – Thursday at 3:15pm ET
Know Your Legal Rights As A Journalist – Friday at 4:15pm ET
Identity, Representation and the Media – Saturday at 11:30am ET
Mental Health Matters: A Session for Educators – Saturday at 1:30pm ET
Covering the Pandemic: Reporting for Television in the New Normal – Saturday at 2:45pm ET
You can also reference this site for a list of mental health resources for journalists: