Self-care for
Journalists and media workers

We put on the tough exterior and say that we’re not affected by stuff we see out on the road but nowadays with social media we hear things so quickly we are on the scene as quickly as the guards, when the body is still on the ground. TV News Editor

taken from Reporting Mental Health and Suicide: Challenges Facing Journalists, Headline, 2019

It is easy to forget that journalists provide a valuable protective filter for the public.

The majority of journalists will witness traumatic events, whether that’s at a crime scene in a rural community, a multi-vehicle car accident, regularly covering the weekly proceedings at family court, or searching through useable images online of the latest international bomb blast.

It’s the cameramen as well, they’re there first and they’re taking pictures of blood on the ground, even if we don’t use them…crew are seeing it anyway. News Editor

In fact, research suggests that between 80-100% of journalists have been exposed to a work-related traumatic event.
(Source: DART Centre )

Many journalists may be exposed to frequent, repetitive, and prolonged, uncensored traumatic content without ever leaving the newsroom. (Feinstein et al., 2014; Weidmann & Papsdorf, 2010)

Maybe there’s a kind of a macho thing in journalism – “Why would you be looking for support, aren’t we dealing with difficult things all of the time and how is this any different?” Print Journalist

How journalists are affected

Most journalists exhibit resilience despite repeated exposure to work-related traumatic events. This is evidenced by relatively low rates of Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD) and other psychiatric disorders.

A significant minority, however, are at risk for long-term psychological problems, including PTSD, depression, and substance abuse.

Events involving death, violence, and human suffering can be especially disturbing for journalists, particularly when these events involve children (Newman et al., 2003; Pyevich et al., 2003; Smith, 2008).

PTSD

Rates of possible PTSD range between 4-59%.

Depression

Rates range from less than 1-21% (Feinstein et al., 2003. Feinstein et al., 2014; Weidmann et al., 2008)

Substance Abuse

Examined among war correspondents and was found to be 14% (Feinstein et al., 2002); examined among journalists working with User Generated Content material – excess alcohol intake 15.4% (male) and 17.4% (female) (Feinstein et al., 2014)

Very little research has been carried out in this area that is specific to the Irish media landscape, but it is anticipated that the figures would be similar.
No, there’s nowhere to go for care within the organisation… we don’t get any help, there’s nothing and no suggestion of care…. I would take younger workers aside and ask if they’re ok, and just check in with them…. There is counselling available through our healthcare but there would be no engagement from management to say “Oh you had a very traumatic morning this morning” or anything like that, nothing. TV Producer

taken from Reporting Mental Health and Suicide: Challenges Facing Journalists, Headline, 2019

What management can do

It is the responsibility of senior management within news and content creation organisations to support their staff in the difficult work they do on their behalf. In Ireland there is some ambivalence about the availability of supports to media workers. While some newsrooms have Employee Assistance Programme providing third party counselling services, many media workers say these supports are not well sign-posted, or there is no culture of self-care in their workplaces.

The DART Centre for Journalism & Trauma have multiple resources for dealing with work-related traumatic events for journalists and media workers. Managers are encouraged to visit this page for ensuring safe work practices among their reporters.

When asked if a print editor would be tuned in if something was upsetting a journalist the answer was a short and definitive ‘No’.

Taken from Reporting Mental Health and Suicide: Challenges Facing Journalists, Headline, 2019

Headline Self-Care Programme in 2019

Building on from our Challenges report, Headline aims to produce self-care guides in line with international best practice. Self-care is a matter for all media workers exposed to traumatic content: reporters, camera-operators, UGC editors, even ingest. If you’re a media worker and would like Headline to engage with your management on your behalf about self-care for media workers, please get in touch with Headline. If you’re a newsroom manager and are concerned about your staff, make sure they’re aware of any confidential supports you have available. If you want to talk to Headline about available supports, please get in touch.

‘With news you’re coming into it live, when it’s happening… so you’re at the scene, maybe waiting for the Coroner to arrive…. you’re generally there for 8-10 hours, or you end up there for a couple of days…over time that it starts to trickle down or to sink in, the seriousness of it. Camera Operator

taken from Reporting Mental Health and Suicide: Challenges Facing Journalists, Headline, 2019

About Headline

Headline is Ireland’s national programme for responsible reporting, and representation of mental illness and suicide. Our objective is to work as collaboratively as possible with Irish media professionals across print, broadcast, and online platforms to reduce the effects of suicide contagion, and the stigma attached to mental ill health.

Accessibility