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December 12, 2023updated 19 Dec 2023 4:26pm

Why building resilient newsrooms is a necessity, not a luxury

How to deal with journalists facing burnout, vicarious trauma, isolation and more.

By Andrew Greaves

Burnout, hybrid working, disconnection, tragic news stories – in the post-Covid world, there’s probably never been as many stress factors affecting journalists.

And that’s why building resilient newsrooms shouldn’t be a luxury for news brands it should be a necessity, with the physical and mental health of staff at the forefront of the thinking.

Thankfully, gone are the days when journalists were left to their own devices after covering a tragic or stressful story. The British stiff upper lip mentality is long gone and support is now – largely – available… even if the onus is on journalists to look for it in some cases.

My own formative years in the industry saw me reporting on the death of three children in a house fire. I was just 18 but the support I received from more experienced colleagues was invaluable when it came to trying to process what had happened.

When we’re caught up in the story there’s very little time to take that step back and consider how such a story might be impacting our mental health (or even if it is having an impact).

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A crucial aspect of dealing with stressful stories is fostering a culture of support and open communication.

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Newsrooms should prioritise mental health resources, such as counselling services or peer support networks, to provide journalists with an outlet for processing the emotional challenges they face.

Additionally, regular training on stress management and resilience-building techniques can equip journalists with the tools to navigate the psychological impact of their work.

The Headlines Network, which was set up to promote mental health in the media, has developed training and a set of resources to deal with some of the issues facing journalists.

The short video series the Network has on ‘Covering Traumatic News’ may only be short but explains what the body and mind goes through when we deal with traumatic events, the longer term effects it can have and support and coping strategies that can be employed.

Challenges from ‘new ways of working’

Even those journalists that don’t necessarily cover the traumatic stories of the day-to-day news cycle, the so-called “new ways of working” present considerable challenges.

In the era of hybrid working, news organisations are grappling with the demands of maintaining productivity and cohesion among teams that are dispersed geographically.

Hybrid models, combining in-office and remote work, offer flexibility but also introduce new pressures. It is essential for newsrooms to adapt their structures and communication strategies to facilitate effective collaboration in this evolving landscape.

One key element in managing the pressures of hybrid working is the use of advanced communication technologies. Utilising video conferencing, collaborative platforms, and instant messaging can bridge the physical gap between team members.

Regular virtual check-ins, team-building activities, and transparent communication channels contribute to a sense of connection and shared purpose, fostering resilience in the face of distance-related challenges.

Some newsrooms – and their internal structures – are better set up to provide these for their staff. But there are still plenty of hurdles that many need to overcome.

In my role as a journalism trainer, I had dozens of young trainees who started their training before Covid hit, finished during the pandemic and then took jobs remotely. Some even moved on to fresh positions 12 to 18 months later without ever physically meeting any of the colleagues they were working with.

It’s that loss of the in-office environment, where more senior colleagues could pass on tips and guidance, offer advice or criticism – constructive or otherwise – or be that crucial sounding board for story ideas that is a huge loss for reporters at the early stages of their career.

Journalists ‘particularly susceptible’ to burnout

Journalists, as we know, are particularly susceptible to burnout due to the demanding nature of their work, exposure to traumatic events, tight deadlines, and the pressure to deliver impactful stories.

The constant influx of distressing news, coupled with the fast-paced nature of the media industry, can lead to chronic stress and emotional exhaustion.

The relentless pursuit of breaking news and the expectation to be constantly connected in the digital age contribute to the erosion of work-life boundaries, exacerbating the risk of burnout among journalists.

Again, newsroom leaders having an awareness of their teams pinch points and issues – and their own – is key to dealing with and mitigating against these competing challenges.

Here are a couple of handy resources for helping journalists and newsroom leaders when it comes to building resilience in their teams.

The Headlines Network– the network has a range of resources to help tackle some of the big stress factors in the newsroom. Resources include a podcast, YouTube videos exploring different trigger points and training.

Safety and Resilience for Journalists NCTJ course – The NCTJ has put together a free course to raise awareness and provide essential guidance to support journalists if they face difficult situations as a direct result of their job.

Newsroom resilience training

Bauer Academy is hosting a one-day training course on creating ecosystems for content in association with Press Gazette on 16 January.

On this course attendees will learn:

  • Coping with the stress of post-pandemic newsrooms, including finding ways of developing inclusive newsrooms
  • Managing the demand for news when under time pressure
  • How to deal with the aftermath of reporting on traumatic news stories – what your mind and body goes through and steps you can take to process it

Newsroom Resilience is one of a series of courses offered in association with Press Gazette. The full programme is as follows:

More information on one-day journalism courses offered by the Bauer Academy here.

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
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