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August 2, 2021updated 30 Sep 2022 10:29am

Free journalist mental health workshops on offer as industry faces ‘perfect storm’ for wellbeing

By Charlotte Tobitt

Free mental health workshops for journalists will launch this autumn as the news industry continues to face a “perfect storm” for wellbeing that began even before coronavirus hit.

It is hoped the online sessions will help advance the conversation about journalists’ mental wellbeing, which became a more widely acknowledged problem during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Former Ethical Journalism Network chief executive Hannah Storm has set up the Headlines Network with John Crowley, who last year co-authored a report about how journalists were coping during the pandemic.

Storm, also a former director of the International News Safety Institute, told Press Gazette: “It’s not a magic wand we’re offering, but hopefully it’s a safe space to speak.”

[Read more: Journalism in time of Covid report finds newsroom leaders have ignored wellbeing impact of remote-working switch]

Storm and Crowley hope to get 120 journalists to the first series of interactive workshops this autumn, which are free thanks to support from the Google News Initiative.

They want to make sure a diverse group of participants are included as, Storm said, “those who struggle the most are often those individuals marginalised by our industry”.

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Storm said stressors on many journalists had been exacerbated by the “relentlessness of the pandemic”, including financial challenges and remote working, but that “all too often, journalists suffer in silence”.

She told Press Gazette she hoped the conversation around mental health in journalism “is now moving in a way that it will continue and that it won’t be forgotten” – and will become as embedded in the industry as physical safety has for journalists in conflict zones.

But she added: “I do still think there are big taboos and barriers and stigmas and shame associated with it that will not be overcome until we really become more equitable, just, inclusive and diverse as an industry.

“So it’s not necessarily moving as fast as one might hope, but it is moving forward slowly.”

[Read more: Call for journalists to receive ’emotional flak jackets’ against worsening online abuse]

Crowley, a former International Business Times UK editor-in-chief, Wall Street Journal digital editor and Daily Mail assistant news editor, said: “The news industry is facing a perfect storm in which journalists are dealing with a struggling business model, redundancies and furloughs and falling trust in the industry.

“That means the wellbeing of our colleagues has been pushed down the priority list – and that was even before the advent of Covid.

“But when journalism is so ready to preach to society about good mental health, shouldn’t we hold ourselves to a higher standard? Before the pandemic, journalism had lacked ambition and innovative ideas. The jolt provided by lockdown and working from home is something the industry could use to reinvent itself anew.”

Sessions will be tailored to journalists at various stages of their careers, whether they are just out of university, mid-career managers or senior leaders.

They will acknowledge the way professional and personal lives have become especially blurred during the pandemic. Storm gave the example of an early career journalist straight out of university feeling isolated and working in their bedroom in a flat-share, versus a new manager with a young family and elderly parents.

Reach, the European Journalism Centre, the Freelance Journalism Assembly, the Society of Editors, journalism.co.uk and the Journalists’ Charity have agreed to be allies of the project, meaning they support its aims and will help to get the word out.

Matt Cooke, head of the Google News Initiative’s Google News Lab and a former BBC journalist, said he recalled the “unique” challenges of the news industry including the “long hours and working to tight deadlines”.

He said Google wanted to help “provide a safe space for journalists to discuss mental health, their wellbeing and to share best practices. We hope participants will explore themes, tips and digital tools to help both at home and in the newsroom”.

Storm said that she would also encourage news organisations or philanthropic groups to consider offering financial support to keep the workshops running free for journalists after this first run. They may also want to ask for tailored workshops for their own staff.

Storm said she hopes news companies will think: “We want to be able to create a safe, inclusive, diverse space for people to share their experiences in a supportive way, because we know that that makes for better journalism.”

She added: “The idea is hopefully we can then create more of a conversation and be able to develop these workshops across the industry.”

Journalists are being invited to express their interest for the autumn workshops by emailing info@headlines-network.com. News organisations interested in becoming allies are also asked to get in touch.

Picture: Shutterstock

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