Now Reading: Rochester Journalists Need More Support to Tell Important Community Stories: How Trauma Influences the Local Newscape

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Rochester Journalists Need More Support to Tell Important Community Stories: How Trauma Influences the Local Newscape

More than 80 percent of journalists are exposed to work-related trauma, according to a 2017 research paper in the National Library of Medicine and Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma. And experts say that number has likely increased due to the pandemic, covering protests and police-involved shootings and mass shootings and violence in the community. 

“Already, that number was about 80-100 percent,” said Dr. Kate West, who used the research in her book, co–authored with award-winning TV news anchor Leslie Rangel, Journalists Break News Don’t Let it Break You: Normalizing Mental Wellness in News. “The mental health crisis continues to manifest because young journalists are afraid to speak up. They are concerned that by saying they are suffering from covering difficult stories like fatal car accidents and shootings they will be viewed as weak and not capable as a journalist. As journalists we need to know that speaking up is a powerful tool to help our own mental health and make us better. “

And in Rochester where gun violence, racism and poverty factor into stressful stories, this can manifest in high rates of anxiety and/or depression, physical illness and high turnover rates. 

“After covering traumatic events, journalists’ emotions can swing from irritability and lethargy, to rage and sorrow,” said Norma Hilton in her article for News Decoder. “Sleeping and eating disorders are common. Others report heart palpitations, sweating, panic attacks, headaches, nausea and chest pain. All too often, they turn to alcohol and narcotics.”

And that’s in the short-term. When faced with several years of this kind of reporting and lack of support from editors, many leave the industry altogether. And this is particularly true for reporters who are women or people of color as they often face even more stressful situations, reporting on stories that can cause trauma, face barriers in the newsroom as they pitch stories or try to rise in the ranks. For many reporters, trauma can happen while covering the story and when they’re back in the newsroom. Facing this daily can be exceptionally exhausting. 

Source: https://mediareparations.org/

“Media owners and newsroom leaders often play the long game and institute only incremental changes to buy time … only to reverse the gains Black people have struggled to obtain,” states a 100-page essay by Media 2070 titled An Invitation to Dream Up Media Reparations – a project committed to radically transforming oppressive systems in the media. “Power makes and plays by a different set of rules.”

However, with news publishers facing the smallest audiences they’ve ever faced, rinse-and-repeat methods of layoffs and traditional news reporting is not working and now many are forced to examine new systems and processes, which can present an excellent time for reporters to boldly speak up: 

“It’s the number one thing journalists can do: speak up when they are struggling,” said West. “Go talk to your news director or editor about the issue that is causing you stress. The only way to normalize the conversation around mental health is to bring it to the forefront and not be afraid you will be taken off a story or demoted for speaking up. If we want to see a culture change within the newsroom, the boss needs to know one person struggling is not an isolated incident. This is a systemic problem within the newsroom that few talk about and these challenges need to be discussed in order for change to happen.”

“See reporters as the humans they are and understand that societally it’s a tough time and journalists are not immune to that.”

-Leslie Rangel, The News Yogi

“Systemically, news leaders must take a look structurally at how their newsrooms are run and be willing to make changes by getting a little more creative and thinking outside the box,” said Leslie Rangel, co-author of “Journalists Break News” and certified mental wellness coach. “On a strategic level, open door policies are nice, but leaders can be more specific on what that policy is. See reporters as the humans they are and understand that societally it’s a tough time and journalists are not immune to that. Some questions I’ve coached news leaders through include asking journalists more open ended and creative questions for example: How can I support you? What’s bringing joy this week? Is there anything you’re struggling with? What’s been a challenge for you this week in your work? How can I make your life easier? Asking more powerful questions can make such a difference between just asking how you are doing and getting two-word answers and actually listening to what reporters need and are going through.”

“Asking more powerful questions can make such a difference between just asking how you are doing and getting two-word answers and actually listening to what reporters need and are going through.”

-Leslie Rangel, co-author of “Journalists Break News” and the News Yogi

Ultimately, it’s an incredible watershed moment for new systems to be created and implemented but they must be designed with a focus on people, telling stories equitably and not dumping the policing, discrimination or violent stories on the journalists of color in the newsroom. In Rochester, where newsrooms are losing journalists faster than they can hire them, it’s paramount that leaders focus on supporting and nurturing them to improve retention, reporters’ ability to tell stories and, ultimately, regain trust from both the reporters in the workplace and the community members who watch/read this news.  

As journalism is forced to forge into a new era, it’s clear that unless leaders consider mental health when creating new systems, they will continue to push out many excellent journalists who choose to leave the industry altogether due to burnout and trauma – and many will take their incredible stories with them. 

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    May 25, 2024 / at 7:37 amsvgReply

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    Rochester Journalists Need More Support to Tell Important Community Stories: How Trauma Influences the Local Newscape