Journalists in modern newsrooms risk succumbing to “anxiety and exhaustion” because of the need to monitor the “seemingly endless sources of potential sources” now available to them.
That is the view of Sally Warren, a Fleet Street journalist turned psychotherapist, on the pressure journalists feel to process emails, tweets, push notifications and more.
I interviewed Warren, a former colleague of mine at The Daily Telegraph, as part of a project for the European Journalism Centre (EJC).
Colleagues who are struggling under the weight of the information they receive in a typical working day are invited to fill out a survey to share their experiences.
"I am not sure I could survive in a modern-day newsroom,” Warren says. “When I worked for a national newspaper there was no Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. There were fewer sources to monitor.
But even then, journalism was stressful and it was hard to switch off. I have no idea how journalists manage now."
Asked what impact this could have on some journalists’ mental health, she adds: "Undoubtedly the pressure to monitor seemingly endless sources of potential stories, from Twitter to Instagram to 24-hour rolling news channels, increases already high stress levels.
“Some journalists thrive in highly stressful environments, but for less resilient or younger staff members this kind of intensity can create feelings of anxiety, lack of self-worth, fear, even depression. The stress can manifest physically in symptoms such as chest pains, panic attacks, difficulty sleeping and so on.
"This can lead to anxiety, exhaustion and an inability to 'switch off'. This in turn can lead to the adoption of coping mechanisms such the use of alcohol or drugs just to survive the pressure.”
I have been blogging about how journalists are wilting under the weight of the emails and push notifications they get in their working day and what we, as an industry, can do to change the narrative.
My work is part of the News Impact Network (NIN) run under the auspices of the EJC. I form part of a cohort of 16 journalists across Europe who are looking at making our industry more sustainable.
A journalist who works in breaking news for a global team says he is “mentally over-burdened” because of the “hyperactive news agenda”.
“We are way over-communicating and it feels like I am just spinning plates.”
Francois Nel, director of journalism leadership at the University of Central Lancashire, says this is a “massive issue” the industry has failed to address.
“Journalists once had control around where they sourced information and on what things. We are now re-broadcasters. We have become re-packagers of information which is mostly out there – on a blog, news release or tweet. That is fundamentally a different skillset.”
Third-party outlets which deliver information to newsrooms have approached me about this pressing issue. I have also received tips and insights on smart working from fellow journalists.
Jane Barrett, global head of multimedia, editorial, at Thomson Reuters, has turned off notifications on email, tries to keep her phone on silent and has culled her Twitter list down to a “reading list rather than a constant stream”. Number one on her wish list would be “something to filter out the duplication”.
Molly de Aguiar, managing director of the News Integrity Initiative (NII) at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, says the newsrooms that will succeed "are the ones who understand that the one-way broadcast model is not sustainable".
"Clearly there are many things converging to overwhelm journalists right now – the 24/7 news cycle, the amplification/urgency that social media adds to that, the intense pressures to churn out stories that will generate traffic that will generate ad revenue, the attempt to discredit journalism by calling it 'fake news'.
"Most journalists don't have the authority to actually do much about how their newsroom operates."
Asked if employers bear some responsibility, Warren says: “They have a 'duty of care' to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees. They have a duty to assess the risks arising from hazards at work and this includes work-related mental health problems.
“In reality this is, I imagine, rarely the case.”
Nel says it behoves journalists to come up with “intelligent solutions”.
“Employers haven’t provided us in the main with the tools. Our content management systems are set up with an old paradigm. We have bolt-on solutions which take in this mass information."
But Nel also believes management at news organisations need to creatively engage.
“We have a problem with the ways traditional managers view technology in this new environment.
“This is why we have this huge [amount of] stress on the people who generate content. You are expected to do more of it.
“The numbers of what people are expected to produce are staggering. How many pieces of content are expected to be professionally communicated?
“No wonder people are burning out.”
Join me in seeking a way forward. Please fill out the survey and share with journalism friends and colleagues.
John Crowley is a freelance journalist who can be found tweeting @mrjohncrowley.