Covering breaking news can be fun. There is that adrenaline rush you get from wanting to report and write your story as quickly as possible. You feel this unmatched sense of success after finishing a remarkable story. But then I have come to realize that newsroom burnout is real. There is a need to start having real conversations about self-care for journalists.
I have been a journalist for over six years now, although I have been many other things in between. I got to write like a professional while I was still at varsity doing my final year. Well, I was fortunate to have gotten the opportunity with the help of seasoned journalists who supported me to get the post at a local newspaper.
I went on the finish my studies and then got a job at the national broadcaster and newsgroup, Zimpapers, which houses The Herald, Sunday Mail, Chronicles, Kwayedza, Star FM and various newspapers and magazines as well.
I also wrote for the Midlands Monitor newspaper and later for News of the South as the South African correspondent. I took on to cover breaking news stories – from the controversial fraternity political system to all the scandals rocking the economy at various levels.
But then it came to a point where I was sacrificing other aspects of my life to cover breaking news. The adrenaline is fun for that moment, but it becomes exhausting afterwards when you are burnt out but still have to keep up to date with the story updates. This is the issues but there is a need to prevent burnout before it occurs in the first place.
You start to fear seeing notifications on your phone, believe me, afraid that it’s more breaking news. As with the case in South Africa, you begin to fear the sounds of fire trucks and police car sirens because you don’t want to have to report on another accident. As a correspondent, I often had to cover a new scandal every week or so. There are always new developments in the string of endless lawsuits and investigations. It’s exhausting.
On top of the anxiety-causing sort of covering any breaking news, journalists are often covering highly traumatic stories. Thank goodness we don’t usually get wars in this part of the world. War correspondents are right there on the frontlines with soldiers where they will be reporting news and updates. This has led to over 30 per cent of them experiencing post-traumatic stress in most instances.
Even though you may not have been in the frontlines of war, secondhand reporting can also cause trauma. Reporters themselves might not realize it, but reporting traumatic stories, even from behind the desk in a newsroom, can significantly impact mental health. Secondary shock is a real thing, and it can happen whether you are reporting from the scene or a computer.
In most newsrooms, success as a journalist is usually determined by reporting well on the hardest topics. These are significant achievements, but such expectations form a culture in which young journalists feel like they can’t succeed if they are not reporting on breaking news or aren’t covering stories involving disasters and tragedies. Instead, newsrooms need to inspire balance and reward quality over quantity.
Without real changes to the way news reporters are cared for in their workplaces, news organizations will not only cause significant harmful effects to their journalists’ mental health. They will also continue to witness high turnover rates with journalists leaving the industry when it becomes too overwhelming. Reporting isn’t easy, and newsrooms should lighten that load from their journalists’ shoulders and prevent burnout.