No, news staff is not OK

By Vivian Warby


Cape Town, South Africa


Two years into a pandemic and with a global war looming, journalists are at the forefront of every bad news story that has come in. No, our staff are not OK.

Staff covering the frontlines of war-torn areas are in desperate need of trauma counselling and debriefing, yet our staff at the forefront of their computers at home covering the stories outside of the war zones are also battling.

Staff (including senior leadership) are in need of counselling and self-care to deal with their work and external circumstances.
Staff (including senior leadership) are in need of counselling and self-care to deal with their work and external circumstances.

The past two years have seen countless troubling conditions and situations: Disruptions overnight. Hard lockdowns. Newsroom offices shut down. Corners of dining room tables turned into work spaces. Colleagues retrenched. Partners’ businesses shutdown. Homeschooling children. Loved ones dying. Isolation. Salaries slashed. Jobs on the line. Reporting on the rawness — the soreness — of life. No, our staff are not OK.

“I am overwhelmed.” “I can’t find space to breathe.” “It is all too much.” “I am constantly concerned that I am going to lose my job.” “I can’t face the heartache of humanity and my life any longer.” “I am scared.” “I can’t do this anymore.” No, our staff are not OK.

There is a drive to get senior management to develop the antennae to pick up the signs of burnout and, at worst, suicide before it happens. The problem, however, is that those in management positions are also not coping.

“Toughen up.” “This is what it means to be a journalist.” “Get over yourself.” “Work, work, work.” People looking for other jobs. Top staff lost. Our staff are not OK.

Day in and day out, looking through images to choose for front pages and online. Editing colleagues’ stories from the frontlines. Interviewing the poor, the homeless, the destitute. Fast-form (fast-farm) journalism. Feed the machine. Another meaningless story hits our targets for the day. No, our staff are not OK.

Reach out. We are all not OK. Here’s what you can do:

  • Buy batches of counselling sessions for staff to anonymously use. A UK company recently bought 20 sessions from a therapist, allowing two sessions for any staff member that needed them. They sent the counsellor’s details to their staff. The sessions were taken up quickly. The counsellor helped contain some staff, offered ongoing paid sessions for others, or referred them on for free counselling.
  • Sign your e-mails with the phone numbers of helplines and suicide lines. You never know when this will be a lifesaver.
  • Host group check-ins. Sit in circle together and talk not about bottom lines but about what is happening in each other’s lives. You can get an experienced facilitator to hold these groups once a month. Staff need spaces to breathe, find similar life experiences with others, and exhale.
  • Be proactive with non-monetary rewards. Give people an afternoon off. Give them a day off on their birthday. Allow staff time out to attend to family issues. You will get better work from them in the long run. In other words: Provide individualised support to staff members.
  • Recognise the reality of work. Did you know some staff have two or three side hustles to keep up with inflation? If you can’t offer a salary increase, consider a shorter work week.
  • If it is evident a staff member is not coping, have a list of professional therapists on speed dial for the company. Ask them how you can make their work experience a better one for them, and create time off.
  • Promote self-care. Journalists are awful with this. (Well, some of them are). Get your team moving in a healthy direction, and lead by example: Have a bottle of water with you at work meetings and try and finish it in the meeting. Find a colleague to “compete” with when it comes to how many steps you take in a day. Have your next face-to-face meeting it in a park, in nature, or on the ski slopes.
  • Check in with individuals. One-on-one check-ins are important. And senior staff members need to check in with each other. Sometimes the boss is not OK.

We spend eight, and in many cases 12 to 14, hours a day at work. Let’s bring some humanity and joy back into it. Be someone who is kind. Be someone who cares.

About Vivian Warby

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