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“Politics as a chronic stressor”: News about politics bums you out and can make you feel ill — but it also makes you take action
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Aug. 3, 2020, 1:58 p.m.
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LINK: www.inma.org  ➚   |   Posted by: Hanaa' Tameez   |   August 3, 2020

As journalists in the United States (and many countries around the world), enter month five of working remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic, a new report by the International News Media Association offers some insight into how some newsrooms have adapted to remote works and tips for others to make the best of the situation that could become permanent for some media companies.

Mary Meehan, a healthcare policy journalist and a 2016 Nieman Fellow, authored the report titled “The Potential Impact of Work-From-Home on Newsrooms.” In it, she writes that newsrooms have rarely encountered such prolonged challenges and difficulties as those posed by the pandemic. “The trauma of covering such an ongoing catastrophe has real health impacts, both mental and physical,” Meehan writes. “In the long run, that can impact the quality of the work and the company’s bottom line. In best practice, news companies would address the additional stress through additional and innovative employee assistance programs.”

In order for work-from-home to successful and be a viable option for newsrooms, they have to correct issues that existed in pre-pandemic times, from technological inequality to toxic office culture. It can’t just the same as always, with a change of scenery.

“Ideally, companies will invest in technology, so all employees operate on equal footing,” Meehan writes. “But the issue of access to quality, dependable Internet service will create a challenge of inclusion and diversity as urban and rural areas are often under-served. Most importantly, the culture of the traditional newsroom will need to change. Emotional support and empathy will be needed in ways not typically part of the hard-charging media environment. Especially as the coronavirus continues to ravage the world, there must be intentional recognition that the members of the media, as all people, are enduring unprecedented trauma and stress.”

That means that managers bear the brunt of making this happen:

Dutch researchers found two types of leadership: task-oriented and relationship-oriented. In a remote working environment, they concluded, “relationship-oriented leadership behaviors are especially advantageous.”

The reasoning is that “in a teleworking environment, direct co-worker support and empathy may not be available, and subordinates may then have a greater need for considerate behavior from their leaders.”

While the world seems to be upside down, this quote from the January/February 2016 Harvard Business Review still seems appropriate: “When managers ignore emotional culture, they’re glossing over a vital part of what makes people — and organizations — tick.”

Meehan cites the examples of six McClatchy local newsrooms and its D.C. bureau getting rid of their office spaces, at least in the short term. Its plan is to return to smaller office spaces where staffers would be in the office on a rotating schedule.

“Positive stress helps people focus and meet deadlines,” Dr. James Rodriguez, a senior research scientist and director of trauma-informed services at NYU’s McSilver Institute, said on working from home covering multiple crises. “Negative stress, especially ongoing negative stress like protesters in the street or a surging number of Covid-19 cases, can become toxic and decrease productivity, even causing or worsening chronic health problems. That, in turn, could lower productivity and challenge the financial gains media companies hope to make as they abandon expensive office space,” the report says.

Here are INMA and Meehan’s tips:

Managers:

  • Be a leader. Don’t just say things like, “Be safe.” Empathize and realize your workers have their own challenges.
  • Set out the tasks with deadlines, but be flexible, especially on working schedules. But be clear about how to communicate with the employee.
  • Good employees are good employees anywhere. You weren’t standing over their shoulder at work, so assume you don’t need to be virtually standing over their shoulder while they are working at home.
  • Ask them what their challenges are, what help they need, what complications they are having. Listen to their response and help when possible.

Workers:

  • Set a schedule. Don’t spend all day at the desk. Go outside, take breaks, be intentional about breaks. Set a timer if needed.
  • Set a defined workspace. Be alert to ergonomic issues. Communicate with family members when you need to not be interrupted.
  • Set defined work times and ask family and friends to recognize those boundaries.

The full report is free for INMA members here.

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