Solving Burnout in Newsrooms

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Solving Burnout in Newsrooms
By Shira Stein • Issue #1 • View online
For most of the pandemic, I’ve been dealing with burnout. I’ve always been someone who deeply cares about my job as a reporter, so when a story that could arguably be the most important thing I ever cover happened, I buckled down and put everything into my job. I took calls from sources at all hours, logged many many extra hours, and stayed at my desk until late into the night.
It took a few months for everything to build up, the depression and anxiety and burnout, but when it did I realized I couldn’t go on like this. So I started therapy again, worked on creating more boundaries, and got help from my editors.
Then, a few weeks ago a story came out about the pervasive burnout being felt by Covid-19 reporters.

Olivia Messer 🌊
NEW: Despite a mountain of headline-worthy media departures, I believe our industry has failed to properly examine the ways reporters covering the pandemic are struggling—and what can be done about it. This is my attempt to correct that.

https://t.co/3d8exYN1dC
The COVID Reporters Are Not Okay. Extremely Not Okay. – Study Hall
Reading Olivia’s piece put me into a depressive funk for days, but when I came out of it, I realized how angry I was. Angry that this is something journalists of color, my fellow LGBT+ journalists, and many other folks have been dealing with for years. And yet, the problem still exists.
So I decided to do something about it. I put together a panel with three journalists so we could talk about how to solve this problem. I hosted that panel on Twitter Spaces last Thursday, but the one benefit/downside of Twitter Spaces is its ephemerality.
To solve that problem, here is this newsletter with some of the highlights of what the three speakers said, with some additional reading on burnout.
My hope is that journalists and newsroom leaders will take this back to their management and work to make our industry better.
Thoughts from the panelists (Stacy-Marie Ishmael, Roxanne Khamsi, and Kendra Pierre-Louis):
Managers need to provide clarity about when you have to work and when you don’t
  • Newsrooms punish people who go offline and tell people they can’t disconnect because someone might need them
  • Tell reporters when an edit is coming so they don’t have to sit at their computer waiting (especially when not in the same physical location)
  • Stop fetishizing being “on” all the time
Hire culturally competent editors (can’t get away with not doing so)
  • Homogeny of editing desks puts burden on marginalized folks to explain/defend or absorb weirdness
  • Reporters of color often step on the landmine of unspoken protocols
  • Intimacy of editing process—white editors will respond to feeling of misgiving and don’t interrogate, they just assume the writing/reporter is wrong
Provide trauma-specific help as the baseline for exposing staff to traumatic materials
  • When newsrooms use therapy programs in lieu of any other solutions, doesn’t work (band-aid rather than a way to address underlying issues)
  • Newsrooms need to plan to protect reporters from physical/emotional risks rather than be reactionary to it
  • We shouldn’t be using therapy as a fix for institutional trauma
Staff need to advocate for those who have less power in newsrooms (freelancers/interns)
  • An element of a good internship program is having a person who holds others on staff accountable for how they manage (or fail to do so) for interns
  • Make sure freelancers are paid so they can do self care
Hire senior managers who can have hard conversations
  • “We are an industry in distress,” they need to be able to roll with the punches -Stacy-Marie Ishmael
Don’t keep bad managers
  • Need to change the norm that managers should get to keep that job if they are bad at managing
Make sure people running teams know how to do so with a hybrid work model
“We owe it to ourselves and to each other not to let institutions off the hook” -Stacy-Marie Ishmael
stacy-marie ishmael
Further to discussion hosted by @shiramstein and the point @KendraWrites made: “a lot of Black workers report that the freedom from managing the hostility in white-dominant workplaces improves their productivity and well-being.” https://t.co/6mS5PA6T7K ($)
I hope to host more of these chats. If you’re interested or have an idea for one, DM me on Twitter.
My hope is to host another chat on burnout from the perspective of newsrooms who have successfully made these changes and have a healthy/healthier culture. If that sounds like you, please reach out!
For some additional reading on the subject:
Beyond Burned Out
Journalists Are Burning Out | The Takeaway | WNYC Studios
Burnout by Emily Nagoski, PhD, Amelia Nagoski, DMA: 9781984818324 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books
Your Burnout Is Unique. Your Recovery Will Be, Too.
Where Are the Mothers? - Nieman Reports
Did you enjoy this issue?
Shira Stein

Health care reporter at Bloomberg Law. Using this space to talk about my reporting and the journalism industry.

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