7 tips to help journalists cope when the news is bad
When you're a journalist covering a piece of news that’s downright depressing, it’s sometimes challenging not to get swept up in the story.
Let’s face it: the news hasn’t been very uplifting lately. Between covering the news of James Foley, the Ferguson shooting and Ebola, there’s been plenty of negative news to go around.
As journalists, our jobs require us to learn as much as we can about a situation, and that often leads us to feel like we are actually a part of it. With difficult details surfacing each day, it is often all we can do to put aside our personal emotions and cover the story.
Here are seven ways you can cope with covering depressing new stories so they don’t start affecting your personal life.
1. Be prepared. Whether you work on the news, features or sports desk, there are going to be bad times. You should go into your job each day knowing that bad news is a possibility. This doesn’t mean you should expect every day to be super depressing, but hoping for the best and expecting the worst is a good way to safeguard yourself from getting disheartened by certain news stories. The key is to be prepared for those difficult moments.
If you know you have to cover a funeral for a child, get yourself ready mentally to deal with it. That doesn’t mean you will not feel any emotion, but it does mean you can keep those emotions in check while you write your story. Once you are done, there will be time to reflect on what you saw. Do not wallow in it. Process it and move on.
2. Talk to your colleagues. They say misery loves company. Well, there’s nothing like the company of others who understand how you are feeling to help alleviate some of your depression. Talk to a mentor or colleague about how he or she learned to cope with covering difficult stories.
If your organization allows it, you could also seek out journalists from other news organizations who are covering the same stories, and see how they are reacting to what they have reported on. Talking to others who are in the same position as you might offer a new perspective of the situation or facilitate a sense of camaraderie.
3. Seek out company resources. Most news organizations understand the danger that their reporters and editors may become too involved in a story or too overwhelmed by the bad news around them. They offer resources, such as mental-health benefits or free counseling sessions, that could help you deal with what you have seen.
For instance, if you have covered a particularly gruesome murder or mass shooting, you are not only gathering details for your story but are also retaining those images or information. There is nothing wrong with seeking out assistance to help cope.
4. Take a break. You can’t just walk off the job during a story, but you can do your best to leave the story behind once you have filed it. Find an outlet that helps you forget the terrible things you may have reported on. For some, this means intense exercise, such as Crossfit or training for a marathon. For others, it is getting lost in a good book.
It could also mean enjoying the company of friends and family who help distract from the depressing parts of our day jobs and remind us what life is really about.
5. Keep your sense of humor. There is a reason newsrooms are known for their gallows humor. It’s a coping mechanism. When you have been covering depressing news for days on end, it helps to laugh about it, even when it feels inappropriate.
In the newsroom, where everyone is experiencing the same trauma, it becomes just another way to process atrocities. When you can laugh about something, you are moving on. Moving on is the single best way to cope with something difficult.
6. Reach out to others. When you wonder about the fate of humanity, there is one way to make life seem better: Help someone else. Helping others is one way we can validate ourselves while also helping to balance out some of the terrible things happening in the world.
When you choose to help someone, you are making a positive impact on the world. It does not mean bad things will stop occurring, but it does mean you are doing your part to push those things away and make them a minority occurrence, not a majority one.
7. Take care of yourself. When we become depressed, we might find ourselves exercising less, drinking alcohol more or being less sociable. Be on the lookout for the feeling of malaise that accompanies such things. Make taking care of yourself and your family your top priority during your downtime.
Remember, you can choose to push away all the sadness and embrace the good parts of life. Looking out for yourself is one way to do this.
Journalism is a difficult profession, but when you have a passion for your job, you can find the healthy balance you need to enjoy life despite the sad things you may cover from time to time.