How to support journalists’ well-being: five recommendations
The Middlesex University has recently published a set of Recommendation for supporting journalists’ well-being as part of the project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council “Journalists’ emotional labour in the era of social media”.
The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) joined in Spring 2022 a dozen of key stakeholders to exchange knowledge and discuss the ways in which journalists’ well-being could be supported to benefit their mental health and job satisfaction, as well as the quality of journalism. This work has led to the following five recommendations.
“These recommendations, as agreed by the multi-stakeholder group, show that the issue of journalists’ well-being is on the agenda of many in the industry, but also that we are just starting to address the issue and that there is a lot of work ahead of us. There are some concrete suggestions for media educators, companies, newsrooms, unions and other journalists’ associations, that can move us in the right direction – towards an industry in which support for journalists to feel and hence perform better in their jobs is normalised and holistic”, said project lead Dr Maja Simunjak.
- Acknowledge the well-being issue and contribute to the culture of change
Journalists have long been taught to be detached and to have “thick skin”. The industry should recognise that journalists experience physical and emotional reactions to work and its conditions – often stress, society, burnout. Many aspects of everyday work can be potential liabilities, from constant pressure to meet deadline and be always on, working long and irregular hours, facing precarious conditions, online abuse, etc. Journalists should not be left to deal with these challenges and their outcomes on their own. A holistic system should be put in place based on organisational, social, and professional support.
- Educate and train in emotional & mental health literacy
Work-related stress can be mitigated with personal resources such as emotional intelligence, resilience, and self-efficacy. Journalism educators, news organisations, professional associations and unions should offer training in development of personal resources to deal with occupational hazards in the job for journalists and managers. Good examples include Self-investigation’s free courses in digital wellbeing for journalists and their managers; Headlines Network’s resources in how to manage your own mental health and support others; and Rory Peck Trust’s resilience programme for freelancers.
- Create and deliver fair and transparent support systems within news organisations
Human Resources’ efforts to offer well-being support are often branded as inappropriate or useful and access to free counselling and therapy is inconsistent among media companies. News organisations should adopt the principle of equity wellness, meaning that everyone has a fair and efficient access to transparent and easy to use systems, including freelancers and temporary staff. Newsroom leaders should lead by example and promote the organisational support systems in order for these to be widely known and its use normalised. Proactive check-in systems should also be instituted to enable prevention and/or early detection.
- Ensure well-being practices and systems are accessible and sustainable
Sustainability is the key to success. To achieve well-being journalists should have easily accessible information such as toolkits about available resources, their rights, employers’ obligations, support contacts, expectations regarding duty of care, online and physical safety recommendations, etc. Newsrooms should have regular briefing and debriefings, in forms of individual and collective critical reflective practice. Peer support networks can also become a resource in managing journalists’ well-being. For example, an informal British peer support network News Breakholds online chats where journalists can engage in a critical reflective practice.
- Build and join coalitions to support evidence-informed solutions
Lots of work remains in raising the issue of journalists’ well-being and mental health on the agenda and creating and implementing appropriate support systems. We need to build coalitions among stakeholders which will through knowledge and expertise exchange contribute to cost-effective and evidence-informed outcomes. Unions, NGOs, businesses and political institutions should secure funding for development and implementation of well-being support resources, particularly as these relate to freelancers and those whose employers do not yet offer adequate well-being support
Examples of robust research evidencing the scope and range of challenges impacting journalists’ well-being are the UNESCO’s The Chilling which provides an international view on the effects of online abuse on women journalists, and recently published Taking Care report which documents the mental health and well-being issues among media workers.