So. Mental Health. It's an issue that means a lot to people I know. I'm a college student who not only experienced stress and anxiety before college, but I also know many people who struggle with the same issues. When Buzzfeed highlighted the stories of people who struggled with mental health and Amber Smith shared a picture of herself during a panic attack, I was glad to see people speaking up to lessen the stigma against mental illnesses.
But one thing that slipped my attention was that I’ve never had a class where I talked about mental health from a reporter perspective. I’ve had discussions in journalism classes on how media covers mental health and different aspects of mental health. I’ve never, however, listened to other reporters or creators talking about what they were feeling while reporting on emotionally-heavy events.
Not until recently, that is:
This video resonated with me as a person in media, but I'm a little hesitant to bring up this subject. One reason is that part of the romanticism of a journalist is keeping a tough, objective, no-nonsense attitude. There doesn't seem to be room for personal emotion, self-reflection and self-help when covering a story.
Also, in a previous draft of a post I compared Diamond Reynolds’ calmness of her reporting to the calmness reporters need to have while reporting. A friend of mine scolded me, and rightly so, for sounding like my experience of keeping calm against angry protests and grieving communities is comparable to keeping calm in the wake of a loved one dying next to me.
Yet, at the same time, reporting on heavy events can sometimes leave a reporter emotionally vulnerable. With so many tragedies just this summer, journalists should seek ways to talk about what’s going on in their minds as they report the news as much as they need to talk about the latest developments in the news.
Maybe this actually does happen, and I just never saw my Annenberg peers confide in one another or to an editor or to a professor. But if these conversations happen in private, I think a lot of journalism students can benefit from discussing experiences of emotionally-straining coverage with one another. That kind of discussion can build a sense of camaraderie and allow ourselves to react to the news without fear of judgement...or maybe that's just wistful thinking.
It's a given that a reporter may never understand a particular story on an empathetic level:
Some of us weren’t raised to fear the police
Some of us never worried about a relative dying because of their job or the color of their skin.
Some of us won’t know the fear of crossing a border to another country.
...And much, much more we haven't necessarily experienced
Good reporters, however, have the ability to sympathize and understand others. Understanding people is one of the most important story-telling skills. As such, seeing massive tragedy, grief and anger unfold can put an emotional strain on a person even when the issue isn’t directly affecting the person in other aspects.
The media and journalists as a whole aren't exactly popular right now, but even though I'm a journalist I do have a heart. I have acquaintances and loved ones who are directly affected by some of the current issues discussed among activists and politicians. The best way that I honor the issues that matter to people is by reporting on them, even if that means writing on perspectives that some of my friends would disagree with, or even denounce.
That's the rub, putting reporting above personal emotion. For me this means trying to not think too hard of my LGTBQ friends while covering an Orlando vigil. It means covering a #BlackLivesMatter protest and not thinking too hard of people I know on both sides of the issue. Thinking too hard would make the event overwhelming, and in my time at Annenberg I learned to keep myself present, but distant, from what I’m covering. I learned to not really talk about how reporting makes me feel.
Am I approaching this correctly? I'm not quite sure anymore.
Like I said earlier, events happening this summer in America alone are tragic and can be emotionally exhausting. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be a reporter in a combat zone or being in constant danger while covering a subject. As such, I won't be able to do this subject justice in one post, and I will revisit this subject as I continue in my career.
So far the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma is a good start for information. It not only gives tips for reporting on traumatic events, it also provides reporters with some self-care information. A few links, in case you're curious:
This post was written on the fly, so if you have suggestions for further reading, have thoughts on this subject or want to share your experiences, please reach out. I’m glad that people share their experiences with mental health. I would love to have discussions on this issue with other journos.