Burnout, stress, trauma for journalists – it’s real

President’s Column

By Betsy Z. Russell

A key part of the Idaho Press Club’s mission is to promote excellence in journalism, and one way we work toward that is by providing professional training. I can’t say enough about the recent “Stress, Trauma and Self Care for Journalists” training that was organized by our training committee, chaired by Audrey Dutton, with the Dart Center for Trauma and Journalism.

The training, held on Jan. 6, drew more than two dozen Press Club members, and it was top-notch. We have another high-quality training opportunity coming up on April 30, when we host our next Journalists’ Institute on Covering the Courts, in cooperation with Attorneys for Civic Education and the University of Idaho College of Law. If you ever cover courts, or supervise reporters who do, please consider participating.

The trauma training was a sign of our times. Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center, led the session, which focused on such close-to-home topics as how to take care of yourself and how to be a good colleague. There’s always stress on journalists who cover traumatic events and topics; recent times have been much worse. Shapiro called it “an extraordinary period of stress and upheaval in our profession.”

The session was entitled, “Beyond Burnout: Stress, trauma and resilience for reporters and news teams.”

“Collegial support is just about the best thing we can do for each other, journalists in these circumstances,” Shapiro said.

Burnout is a serious concern, leading to exhaustion, mental distance and cynicism, and reduced professional efficacy. Burnout is defined as “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It can become an occupational health issue for us, like a repetitive stress injury.

“News is a trauma-facing profession,” he said. But he said as a profession, “Journalists are really resilient.”

A sense of mission is highly associated with journalists’ mental health, he said, as is holding firm to our sense of ethics and professionalism. I found this to be incredibly reassuring.

“Craft, ethics and colleagues are all protective factors,” he said.

Being aware of things we can control and things we can’t, even listing them, can help us regain some agency, he advised. So can identifying the specifics of what you love in your work, and focusing on that part of the job. Restorative activities and time off are important, as is taking breaks. Even things like adequate sleep, exercise, and keeping an eye on substance use can be significant. These are just a few of the things that came up.

The session touched on everything from finding meaning in loss to counseling and other resources, along with an eye-opening look at the psychological injury that can come from stress reactions, knowing our signs, and developing self-care strategies. The Dart Center is a project of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. The center offers an array of resources online at www.dartcenter.org.

Betsy Russell is the Boise Bureau Chief for the Idaho Press and is the president of the Idaho Press Club.