Between a global pandemic and international war, the last few years have been very demanding on journalists. Not just because of how constant the workload is, but the impact of reporting traumatic news stories. Add the craze of AI into the mix, and the picture becomes a whole lot more complicated.
Where will the news industry go from here? We asked the experts to weigh in.
Mental health literacy becomes a must-have: Mar Cabra, co-founder and executive director of The Self-Investigation
Most of us have a gap of knowledge that may end up affecting us and our stories in the long-term: we urgently need to learn about how to manage our mental health in our complex work. To date, very few people in newsrooms have learned how to deal with complex and emotional content, in high-pressure environments, with constant hyperconnectivity, shrinking number of jobs, expanding workloads and in the midst of uncertainty.
The mental health of journalists has been steadily deteriorating globally since the pandemic, with record levels of burnout, anxiety, depression and post traumatic stress disorder. There is an increasing number of mental health sick leaves, many leave the profession altogether or more young people are questioning whether to enter at all. Journalism was the number one most regretted college major in a recent survey in the US.
One of the keys to curbing this silent epidemic is investing in prevention efforts. It not only makes sense from a human perspective, but also from a business one. "Organisation-wide early interventions (...) provide the highest ROI [return on investment], at £5.60 for every £1 invested," according to Deloitte UK, as they help mitigate sick leaves and increase talent retention and acquisition.
In 2024, more media companies will offer mental health literacy training and opportunities to their staff and freelancers, with a special focus on managers. Because the future of journalism needs mentally healthy journalists.
- Read more: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Mar Cabra, launches a stress management tool for newsrooms
Newsrooms stop becoming firefighters, and consider fire prevention instead: Hannah Storm, co-founder, Headlines Network
Mark Hakansson / Mousetrap Media
Just as most newsrooms have strategies for digital, for AI, for audience, they will need strategies for safety that incorporate crisis management and ensure our journalism can continue to thrive. All newsrooms would benefit from someone who is a bridge between editorial and safety, who can step back and not get pulled into firefighting.
I recognise it is not possible to mitigate against every risk.
In many ways, journalism is about responding to fires. It is about covering the news and experiences that are beyond our expectations. As journalists, many of us are used to running towards danger and difficulty, but in the past, this has been interspersed with downtime.
Too few news organisations are implementing strategies that allow them to effectively plan for crises, to identify risks, while minimising costs to their journalism and crucially their journalists.
Firefighting is not something that can be done for a long time. It demands a focus, forcing our attention from other things into survival mode. I am concerned that too many of those in charge of safety in newsrooms are constantly trying to put out fires, unable to consider the risks that might be on the horizon and how to mitigate them.
Too few newsrooms have people with responsibility for safety who understand the realities of journalism, who think like journalists, but who are also able to take stock of, mitigate and plan for the potential problems faced by a diverse community of people for whom definitions of danger and difficulty can be very different.
Until newsrooms recognise the need for someone to take more of a strategic look at editorial safety in all its forms, these organisations will be trapped in a cycle of firefighting, which will impact on wellbeing, decisions and ultimately cost the organisation more.
- Listen: Managing burnout and setting boundaries, with Hannah Storm and John Crowley of Headlines Network
Managers implement the lessons of the pandemic: Kevin Young, head of audience, The Economist
One other thing to keep in mind is the wellbeing of those producing that news. It has been a gruelling 2023. Reporters on the ground—and picture and video editors back at base—were exposed to unimaginable horrors.
Journalists faced ever-increasing pressures to feed the multimedia beast. And the impact of covid-19 became clearer, through both chronic and emotional illness, as the pandemic’s fifth year began.
The managers who show compassion and empathy, understanding when to pull teams back as well as when to push them forward, will be among any newsroom's biggest assets.
- Read more: 'Traumatic stories chip away at our mental health,' says Northern Irish journalist Leona O'Neill
Rest and recuperation becomes a major priority: Rozina Breen, CEO and editor, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ)
Everyone will need more rest and sleep. The problem with having exceptional teams is that they want to keep going - but life is challenging inside and outside of our newsrooms and self-care is going to need to come higher up our agenda.
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- Unveiling the lessons of a war reporter's journey, with Andrea Backhaus
- Have your say: new study wants to know how UK-based journalists cope with moral injury
- Lars Jensen, team lead audience at Berlingske Media, on making organisational change stick
- Emotions in journalism: how to manage the good, bad and ugly
- Finding happiness in journalism, with Avery Holton