The “News Nightmare”. What to learn from recurring bad dreams.

Mental health is a growing concern among TV news journalists. Old time journalists often were told to grit it out, suck it up, understand the stress and anxiety of the daily deadline pressures and, frankly, awful crime stories are part of the job. 

Surviving as a journalist should not mean constant suffering though. Yes, part of the job is seeing horrible crime scenes, covering stories that showcase the dark parts of humanity in stark terms, and uncovering corruption. Yes, journalists know that goes with the territory. But that simply doesn’t mean stations and broadcast groups should just tell staff to handle it all on their own.

I keep saying that journalists are the commodity broadcasters sell. You must realize the people covering the news are the company’s most precious assets. No journalists, no newscasts = no revenue.  

Top News Talent, which I just recently co-founded, hosted a discussion on Clubhouse on mental health. Specifically the recurring dream many producers have that they cannot get their newscast done on time. This is the start of many discussions we hope have to help raise awareness that journalists in TV news do take their job home with them. It impacts their personal lives as well. From this discussion, with therapist Matthew Nordin, we learned some very valuable lessons.

  1. These dreams can be a sign that the journalist needs a mental health break. Maybe it’s  a mental health day. Maybe more.
  2. Recurring dreams can signal that you’re struggling to cope with something you covered, wrote about or the circumstances in your newsroom. 

For those of you having these recurring dreams, some crucial takeaways:

  1. There are coping mechanisms to help you distance yourself a bit from the daily stress. A big one Matthew mentioned is “soft belly breathing.” It sounds too simple, right? But it’s based on science. Your mind is powerful enough to use this simple technique to reset your stress levels in a powerful way. Here is a video showing you how to belly breathe. And an audio version and interview.
  2. If you ignore the dreams, the stress usually increases. There is a risk of developing actual PTSD. 

Journalists and managers also need to be aware of secondary trauma. Let’s define it in simple but crucial terms: by covering traumatic events regularly, the journalist also becomes impacted by the events. Over time this can lead to PTSD if not addressed early and often. Partner this with newsrooms that are understaffed, work hours that make it hard to sleep at night (overnights), keep a regular sleep schedule (covering for sick calls on different shifts), and 10 hour shifts on average with little to no breaks, and the journalist is already more prone to anxiety overload.   

Companies offer EAP programs. This allows anywhere from 4 to 6 visits with a therapist, for free, depending on your company’s plan. A crucial thing here, when you call to set up the visits, know your station, your boss and your parent company do not know you are seeking therapy. Some employees really worry about this. It is truly anonymous. When you call to use this valuable benefit, have your health insurance card handy so you can ask them to look for a therapist who also takes your insurance in case you end up needing more than the standard sessions alloted. If that is not possible, ask for some names, then you can look them up. Matthew tells us Psychology Today is a great resource to check out potential therapists. From here you can find out if they take your medical insurance for after the EAP alloted sessions.

Matthew also told us there are ways to get therapy and not have it cost a fortune if you do not want to use your medical insurance or you cannot find a therapist who takes your insurance. This is key, the services we are listing here, link you with therapists that essentially donate their time to give back, in a sense. They passionately want to help more people afford therapy, Here are the two links to these services:  https://www.opencounseling.com/ and https://openpathcollective.org/.

A last note to individual journalists: PTSD can set in within a month of suffering trauma. So if you cover a story that really seems to impact you more than most, it’s preferable to not wait and see what happens. Get counseling quickly to try and prevent PTSD from setting in. That said, Matthew points out that if you’re already a mindful person who’s really in touch with your body and emotions through yoga, meditation, etc. you may not need a therapist. This is where knowing yourself and your limits are really important.

For managers and broadcast group leaders, try and create an environment where staff can tell you the stress of the job is getting to be too intense, before it gets to the point the person must quit their job. Ask regularly, how staffers are doing. If you can bring in counselors not just when something tragic, like a school shooting, standoff or death of a staff member happens. Offering a chance to talk with a counselor more regularly, can help immensely. It also could show that you value mental health and might lead to more staff telling you if they need help. If you can advocate for more mental health coverage, including HSA $ for mental health treatment or mindfulness coaching, you not only prove you care for your staff, you have a powerful recruiting tool. 

As for those anxiety dreams we all seem to have? The first step is making your bedroom a sanctuary for sleep. UC San Diego created this great infographic on how to achieve this.

Matthew also provided this amazing list of resources to check out, that can help with many aspects of our lives. After all,  journalists are first and foremost human as he eloquently points out.

More to come. 🙂

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Why Can’t Journalists Want To Make Good Money? Let’s Take A Closer Look At The Expectations Broadcasting Groups Need To Let Go Of To Survive As An Industry.

For months, articles have been posted on LinkedIn and publications that report on media, about the growing decline of applicants for TV news jobs.  I have written quite a few myself and touched on something important that needs to be said in more blunt terms, so it hopefully resonates better.

Journalism can be a vocation that warrants, even commands good pay. From the time I entered J-School, aspiring journalists were told this is a calling. This is a vocation. This job is hard and you will pay your dues and you may never make a lot of money. But you will love the job. There is nothing else like it. Or is there? 

A lot of outlets allow you to tell stories, research issues, explain concepts to communities and most importantly help you advocate for others. The vocational element of journalism is not the top sell anymore. Read that again. This calling is rapidly losing appeal. There are other outlets that can and will feed journalists’ souls. 

Broadcasting companies push this it’s a calling, vocation attitude. It’s a reason given for not being able to pay well throughout newsrooms. It is time for broadcasting groups to understand that several generations’ worth of the workforce, don’t agree. They want good pay and feel the training they got warrants the money. It is also easier than before to look up and understand the huge pay differences between newsroom employees, station managers, and the executives telling you, not to push too hard on the money, it’s a calling and privilege to be a journalist. I am asked all the time if that is true, shouldn’t that apply to the executives as well? In addition, many stations are making good money, even though the pandemic. Journalists understand this. They know there is potentially more money available, but the corporate level is not releasing as many funds as it could. One of the most common reasons given is because the company has to research and create digital platforms. While true, there is a missing link that needs to be stated clearly.

Executives need to understand, the commodities that make the company profitable, are the journalists. They to a large degree are the product, because their critical minds, fact-finding training, and ability to boil down complex material so the community can absorb the information is what the executives sell. Journalism has to be done well, to make it viable long term. Cheapening the product has led to issues with credibility and frankly relevance. Put it on any platform you want. If the product is weak, it will not sustain anywhere. Discerning minds are the most precious resource a newsroom has. Invest in the brains of the room.

Going to more digital products makes sense, but you still need skilled professionals with the ability to share information in a relatable way.  In fact that commodity is still absolute. The platform is secondary. So it is frustrating to see the same issue happening with digital producer pay. Many make even less than the TV content generators. Yet this is the platform of the future.  Please explain the logic?

Journalists should not be shamed for asking to make a livable wage and rewarded for the training they received. In fact, it’s time to do more comparison research to see what other content creators make and raise producers, reporters, and digital content creators’ salaries. The initial sting is going to be cheaper than the cost of letting this issue continue to fester. Journalism has suffered enough. Credibility is too at risk. 

Journalists can and should want to make good money. They take on a lot of responsibility and sacrifice a lot of time with their families.  Being a doctor and a politician are vocations too. But you do not see people in these roles struggling to pay their bills each month.  It’s time to pay journalists their worth, recognizing this reality instead:  Journalists are experts, skilled, highly marketable, and extremely important to a well-functioning society. Let that role reflect more in their pay. The pandemic has created an opportunity to restructure. Why not start to design these changes now?

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10 Years strong. And chock full of goodness. Can you help?

Survive TV News Jobs is 10. How cool is that! We are still going strong. Adding more content to help you get the most out of this exhilarating, maddening, fulfilling and at times intensely tiring career.

Survive currently has more than 260 articles to help you out. Everything from how to write basic copy, to finessing live shots and umbrella leads, to dealing with the bully boss and/or coworker. This website is a labor of love for fellow journalists who too often put others above themselves.

This website has always been free access. Some professors use articles to enhance a lesson. Many journalists use the cliche list. News managers use it to mentor their staff to help them see a different way of showcasing, or doing a live shot. That’s been the goal and the fact the articles are used this way means more than words can say.

There is a new button on the website, you might have seen. A donate button. This website is getting so large, expenses are up to maintain it and keep it safe. If you don’t mind throwing a “tip in the jar” it is very appreciated.

Thanks for reading all these years. Thanks for sharing insights. Thanks for taking on this amazing vocation, journalism, especially at a time like this. You inspire. The hope remains this website makes it a little easier for you each and every day. Keep up the good fight.

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Stressing me out! How to give yourself breathers during intense shifts.

I posted a question on @Survivetvjobs Twitter line. Within 24hours it had more than 29 thousand impressions. Talk about hitting a nerve. It was “Hey TV news journalists what do you do to relieve stress?” 

TV News is a stressful career no doubt. Now with more MMJ’s, less writers and more responsibilities than ever before it can sometimes seem unbearable.  So let’s talk about how to survive your daily shift better. 

Getting a good routine down as best you can is number 1. You want the grind to sort of become normal in a way. So the first few months, you should keep a journal on what worked and didn’t as you try and navigate getting through your shift. Also use the search section of this website to look up producing and/or reporting for all kinds of articles on how to make your job easier.

You need to focus on hobby’s that give you joy when you are not at work as well. Many of you listed great options there.

I also want to give you some simple, easy to implement stress relievers you can use each day, at work.

Practical things you can do, right away to add calm to your day

  1. Schedule breath breaks. Then actually take them
  2. Mini lap break
  3. The running joke is very important
  4. Chat line
  5. Inspiring quotes
  6. Random acts of kindness to your coworkers
  7. Celebrate little victories
  8. Realistic goal setting
  9. Write down the small things eating at you, then throw the paper away
  10. Use EAP plan

Let’s dig in. I know many of you are saying you do not have time to run to the restroom most of the time. But breath breaks can be super short. Set up “times” for these like once I finish stacking my rundown I will do this for myself. Once I finish this interview I will do this for myself. Make it a habit. 

If you are religious, think breath prayer. It is amazing how taking 30 seconds to do one can help. If you are not religious taking three long breaths and imagining letting go of the stress in part of your body can really help. I love the Calm app for this reason. Check out the breath bubble video on YouTube since it can be a game changer during work. Sneak into an edit bay and try it.

Mini lap breaks are also really important. You need to get the blood flowing to keep a clear head. So standup and walk a lap around the newsroom or better yet around the station. Even if you have to be on the phone. If you are a reporter put the phone down and walk a lap. You need to reconnect with your environment. Producers need to disconnect from theirs.

Running “inside” jokes among your shift are important. If you don’t already have some, try and foster that. They need to be kind and silly, not picking on a staffer. I had coworker who loved a certain salad with chicken. We would sing silly song about 15 minutes till salad time (usually sung right after a manager yelled at us for something) and would put pictures we printed off the internet of salads with chicken to set on her desk.  An anchor I worked with loved Halle Berry. So we would tape pics of her up on his computer monitor before he got to work. It became a competition of who could find the most random pic of her. Things like that. A director hated the easter bunny but in a silly way. So we would put pics of bunnies up on his monitor in the control room. He would then write silly notes on them like “nope” and then repost the pic on someone else’s monitor. 

Some companies have also started chat lines, because of COVID. A chance to have some sort of running dialogue like you used to have sharing pods with others. This can be great too. Take turns picking a topic for the day that is light. You can do this with group texts if need be. Who can find the silliest dog meme of the day? (See now my pic above makes sense lol) Subjects like, who really drank from the water hose? What is the worst vacation you’ve taken? Did you try the latest viral recipe on Tik Tok? This quick connection can help keep tension down for the entire group. Just make sure everyone knows this line is for small talk only.

For years I have kept some inspiring quotes that resonate with me on sticky notes either on my desk or in the notes section of my phone. They also really help. Especially if it is one of those days when it all seems to pile on. These quotes provide a quick reminder, this too shall pass.

When is the last time you did a little something to cheer up your coworkers? Simple things, like leaving a piece of candy on their desk? A quick text saying the MMJ’s live shot rocked, or the producer had a killer cold open really helps ease your stress and the other person’s as well. It also fosters a newsroom where people support each other, and frankly the staff has to do that most of the time. Newsrooms are not naturally positive environments. The deadline pressure and competition to be first etc goes against that principle a bit. If you foster mutual respect with simple gestures, it really can help bring everyone’s stress down and increase the “We are in it together” bond. 

An anchor I worked with used to bring a cake in once a month to celebrate all the birthdays of the month in the newsroom. It was a huge hit. An EP I had used to leave me silly sticky note messages randomly on my desk. A director I worked with used to leave me copies of articles about gardening, since we shared that hobby in common. It has been years, and I remember each of these simple acts of kindness. The gestures matter. Do them, and hopefully over time you will start a phenomenon in your newsroom.

Celebrate the little victories. Did you consistently finish your newscast an hour early this week?Treat yourself. Did you break two stories this week? Time to spoil yourself. Did you notice a coworker had an awesome week boosting ratings, owning a story etc? Tell them awesome job. This reduces stress immensely. Honor your goals, and honor the hard work of those around you. 

Set realistic goals. Working in news will always be messy. It will be hard consistently. Once you accept that fact, then decide on simple ways to improve your work, your attitude and even your stress level. One step at a time is key here. Saying I will take a newscast from worst to first in 6 months for example is too much. Fixing a section of the newscast where ratings consistently dip, is more realistic at first. Reporters, you might not lead the newscast every night, but aiming to be one of the promotable stories for the day each day is a realistic goal. 

This next idea is really important and really does require using a pen or pencil. When the stress is really building up during your shift, write down a list of your stressors. Get them on paper. Look at the list, then ball it up, rip it to shreds, do whatever feels right, and pitch the note. You can really digest those frustrations and look for patterns later. During your shift you need to be able to let them go, so you can focus and get the weight of them off of your shoulders.

Also I cannot implore you enough to use the EAP plan offered at work. This is the counseling service that offers anywhere from 3 to 6 free consultations with a therapist. This is anonymous. Your boss will never know. Every company offers this and frankly with the stress of TV News jobs every journalist should use this service. You deserve the chance to tell someone how you feel and why. It really can help you cope with everything you see each day. Especially now with so many heavy topics to cover constantly.

Please know you are not alone in this journey. Many of us understand what you are experiencing and there are ways to make your job more manageable stress wise. Try and foster connections with your coworkers who are living it too, and be kind to yourself as much as possible. If you need help, reach out. 

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