Self Care Tips for News Media

These tips are offered as suggestions only, to assist in fostering healthier newsrooms and better journalism. They are based on research findings on well-being and resilience and the practical experience of news professionals in the field.

Before a potentially traumatic assignment

  • Talk through possible emotional risks with your editor or manager. Take them seriously.
  • Agree how you will keep in regular touch, particularly if difficulties arise.
  • Agree that partners and families are kept informed.
  • Maintain strong social supports and peer networks.
  • See crises as challenges to learn from. Maintain an optimistic outlook and positive self-view.
  • Remember that the journalism of trauma matters. What you do is important and worthwhile.
  • Camera operators - be familiar with equipment - malfunctions or not being able to file will compound a stressful situation.

On the job

  • Understand that distress in the face of tragedy is a normal human response – not weakness. Most people recover soon enough.
  • Ensure proper eating, hydration and sleep. All of these can affect journalistic judgement.
  • Easy on ‘self medication’. Overuse of substances is an indicator that all is not well.
  • Get some exercise if you can. Even a walk helps break down ‘stress chemicals’ in the body.
  • Take breaks – and encourage others to as well. This assists integration of material and enables clarity.
  • Acknowledge your feelings. Understanding feelings informs your journalism and helps you process trauma.
  • Talk to others. Take time to reflect on what you are witnessing and how you are responding and, if possible, talk about it with colleagues. Share your thoughts.
  • Call home. Maintain contact with loved ones and peers– especially on long assignments.
  • Make decisions in the moment and don’t ruminate about ‘what if’s’. Reassess later if necessary.
  • Don’t look at grotesque images too long.
  • Look out for others in your team.
  • Know your limits. Request rotation if needed.
  • If you are feeling distressed don’t hide it. Such responses are human and it is not weak, unprofessional or career-threatening to admit them.
  • Camera operators - maintain contact with the desk as well as fellow photographers/camera operators for feedback and ideas. Don't dwell on missed opportunities.
  • Camera operators – use the ritual of organising your equipment at the end of each day as a ‘de-stress’ activity.

To watch for on the job

  • Disorientation or ‘spacey’ feelings.
  • Difficulty doing simple tasks or problem solving.
  • The ‘100 metre stare’.
  • Impulsivity, extreme anger, argumentativeness, violence.
  • Constantly distracted.
  • Distortion of time.
  • Expressions of futility, helplessness, terror, fear for ones life, shame.
  • Physical or mental exhaustion.

Common responses immediately after witnessing trauma

  • Sleeplessness
  • Upsetting dreams
  • Intrusive images or thoughts of the event
  • Avoidance of reminders of the trauma
  • Feeling that bad things are about to happen to you
  • Being jumpy and easily startled
  • Physical reactions such as sweating, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, nausea when reminded of a traumatic event

These reactions may indicate a need for a break or rotation. If they continue for longer than 3-4 weeks, or at any stage feel extremely overwhelming seek the help of a trauma therapist.

After the job

  • Debrief with someone you trust. Choose a good listener. Don’t bottle up feelings.
  • Monitor for delayed reactions – they can catch you by surprise at a later date.
  • Maintain normal routines and activities, but slow down. Look after yourself.
  • If distress continues beyond 3-4 weeks seek professional assistance from a health care practitioner trained in trauma.

For further information, contact the Dart Center or email Dart Centre Australasia.

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