How to add well-being to a newsroom natural disaster plan

January 23, 2018 11:00

Hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and earthquakes are natural disasters that are most certain to get our attention for coverage.
For the newscast, a journalist’s thoughts are often the visual elements and the sound that will make these stories meaningful for viewers.
Previously, as a news director, I would often process all levels of coverage. In my current role as a happiness and employee engagement scholar, I say there is one thing we must add to our toolkit. What is it? Well-being must be a priority.
Journalists face daily challenges of reporting on disasters and witnessing trauma. Journalism is a difficult job with high demands, long hours, and fierce competition. On top of that, it is a culture that promotes silence. It is time to make noise.
Research shows that 80-100 percent of journalists have been exposed to work-related trauma. Some organizations, like the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma have gathered studies focused on post-traumatic stress of journalists. They have reported PTSD rates as high as 59%, which can result in long-term psychological problems, such as depression and substance abuse.
Here are five strategies that are musts for any news team.
  1. Seek professional help. States Lena Cohen, “When you find yourself continuing to replay or flashback, it is really something for you to begin to think about.” As a clinical therapist Cohen understands the significance of witnessing and experiencing trauma. Prior to counseling she worked as a story coordinator for Inside Edition. She covered natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy and managed hard news stories, like the Boston Marathon bombing. Cohen suggests that if you are still coping with trauma after a month, seek help. If “after a while you find yourself shying away from or avoiding similar stories that is a really big sign that maybe you need to talk to someone that is a professional that can help you work through those emotions,” states Cohen. 
  1. Practice relaxation methods. The National Center for PTSD provides coping strategies that promote relaxation. Some that are newsroom friendly when balancing story construction and home life include breathing exercises, meditation, and listening to quiet music. Melanie Faizer shares this practice in “Bringing Buddha to the Newsroom: Media with Mindfulness.” This form of reflection in a newsroom can help with decision-making and minimizing risks
  1. Talk with others. Newsroom friendships and comradery are impactful. Amy Colbert, Joyce Bono and Radostina Purvanova discuss flourishing workplace relationship in their research. In a series of qualitative and quantitative studies, they created a model of positive relationships. Colbert, Bono, and Purvanova states, “Our results extend this line of research by showing that when employees have the opportunity to give to coworkers at work – in the context of good work relationships – benefits accrue to employees.”
  1. Practice compassion at work. Monica C. Worline and Jane E. Dutton, organizational scholars and the authors of Awakening Compassion at Work, study compassion from a scientific point of view. When dealing with suffering at work they believe in breaking the silence. They challenge managers to imagine an office that is a great place to work because members come to the job taking care of one another and also help with dealing with adversities, such as a loss of a home to a fire. Worline and Dutton state, “Because it is important to care for people at work in this organization, it’s easier for people to feel empathy for the loss and step in to begin organization action to alleviate the impact of the fire.” This creates an organization that works to alleviate suffering, and opens the doors of helping employees suffer from illnesses, injury, loss, financial pressures, and other hardships.
  1. Cultivate positive activities. Having positive outlets like art, dance or other recreational activities can foster positive emotions. Ask yourself, “What activities make me and my news team happy?” For some of us that is yoga, running, dancing or art. Research supports recreation activities that promote relaxation and provide social support as a positive coping strategy. Create a day where you have these positive activities in-house. After busy weeks of hard news coverage of natural disasters, have a yoga instructor at the station or even create a spa day on-site. You can also host a positive activity outside of the newsroom that you and your team can use as a chance to destress.
Next time a natural disaster strikes in your market, pause and break the silence. While you are adding to the assignment board and stacking the show, don’t forget to include all of these elements of self-care for yourself and your news team. It is one source that we must not ignore.
Dr. Kortni Alston is News Director turned Happiness Scholar, Consultant, and Lecturer. She obtained her Ph.D. from the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. Dr. Alston has an MBA and worked as a TV reporter in Houston, Philadelphia, and Youngstown, Ohio. She can be reached via Twitter @KortniAlston.