The TV news industry is in flux. Crisis point: finding and retaining producers. Consider this: Your job will remain if reporters are phased out in the digital age. There is always a need for content finders and editorial context. Producers must be the best truth seekers, and BS detectors in the building, every day. You are the gatekeepers of truth. Gusty journalists with a job that has a high learning curve.
So let’s even that playing field. Let’s finally put what you really need to know to kick butt at your job, in one easy-to-reference spot.
This book is years in the making. Producers and managers spoke, listing skills most have to try and figure out largely on their own while on the job. Let’s make it easier.
Here’s a list of topics covered: How to stack a newscast How to choose leads How to get your writing done in time How to time your show correctly How to write clearly How to write to video How to tease How to avoid fact errors How to showcase (describes several techniques) How to handle team coverage and continuous coverage
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.
These dreams can be a sign that the journalist needs a mental health break. Maybe it’s a mental health day. Maybe more.
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:
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.
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.
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
Schedule breath breaks. Then actually take them
Mini lap break
The running joke is very important
Random acts of kindness to your coworkers
Celebrate little victories
Realistic goal setting
Write down the small things eating at you, then throw the paper away
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.
Survive is full of articles about how to write more conversationally as well. But this article is going to talk about a simple technique that frankly I am surprised hasn’t already come up in an article about cliche writing. It’s as simple as asking “Would you say that to your Mom?”
Yep, this question when writing, then scanning over your copy will catch so many errors, and especially cliches. It is a real tried and true technique veteran journalists have used many times over. And it bares repeating in an article on to itself. It is that effective.
You would not call your Mom and say “Hey there was a brutal murder and some residents nearby are scared.” You would not call your Mom and say “A blaze broke out two miles from the house.” Go down our cliche list, none of the phrases would be good for talking with Mom. None.
So let’s thank our parents for giving us a huge gift, teaching us the art of straightforward, conversational non cliche writing. They don’t use it on you. You don’t need to use it on the audience. So glad we had this talk 😉