The answer to “quiet quitting” is radical empathy

“We can’t just expect journalists to practice self-care; we need to put processes in place to ensure they aren’t overworked and actively help them manage their workloads.”

Perhaps no phrase was more ubiquitous or misunderstood in 2022 than “quiet quitting.” While the idea of employees mailing it in en masse had many HR departments squirming, the reality of the trend is more nuanced. Quiet quitting isn’t about the downfall of ambition. It’s a symptom of the pandemic’s emotional whiplash and the inevitable blowback of burnout. But mostly, it’s a call to action to care for ourselves, and for each other.

In a moment where we’re rethinking what work should look and feel like, we need to reimagine the modern newsroom through the lens of wellbeing. If we want our industry to survive, we need to think critically about our responsibility to each other.

The pace and pressure of newsroom culture is especially susceptible to breeding burnout. Enduring the relentless, often bleak 24-hour news cycle requires a rare type of resilience. It’s why many journalists continue to leave the industry entirely, choosing to prioritize their mental health over prestigious media jobs.

To address the emotional toll of this important work, we need to offer more than performative gestures; we need to take the steps required to shift newsroom culture entirely. We need to stop normalizing exhaustion and embrace radical empathy.

In her 2021 book Radical Empathy: Finding A Path to Bridging Racial Divide, political scientist Terri E. Givens describes radical empathy as “moving beyond walking in someone else’s shoes and…taking actions that will not only help that person but will also improve our society.”

So, how do we put radical empathy into action?

For starters, we can proactively provide journalists with the tools necessary to manage stress and mitigate harm during trauma-inducing newscyles. Global Press, the nonprofit newsroom I lead, is dedicated to training and hiring local women reporters in the least-covered places on earth. To support them in that work, we created our award-winning Duty of Care program, which includes a global wellness network that provides unlimited counseling sessions and mental health resources in six languages.

We can’t just expect journalists to practice self-care; we need to put processes in place to ensure they aren’t overworked and actively help them manage their workloads. As newsrooms downsize, we need to reassess outputs and adjust expectations accordingly. We need to hire weekend and night editors rather than allowing journalists to overextend themselves.

We can structure newsrooms to better support Black and brown staffers, who are often marginalized, silenced, underpaid and underrepresented. When racial justice stories dominate the news cycle, we need to check in, offer mental health days, and give reporters the freedom to opt out of stressful coverage, including requests for sensitivity reads. These behaviors need to be backed up with policy. At Global Press we formalized this idea through a non-assignment policy that allows reporters to avoid stories that undermine their wellbeing, either mentally or physically; this should be an industry-wide standard.

We need to make it clear, at every turn, that our people are more important than pageviews. Being a journalist is more dangerous than ever. In 2022 alone, 67 media professionals were killed and 375 journalists were jailed for their work. In countries where press freedom is limited, this threat is especially pervasive. To underscore our commitment to the safety of our journalists, particularly those abroad, we need to outline clear protective measures and protocols. Every newsroom needs a duty of care policy. Prioritizing digital, legal, physical, and emotional security is not only ethical, it’s integral.

But above all, practicing radical empathy means simply being human. It means checking in on how people are doing in 1:1s, not just because you want them to be more productive, but because you care. It means acknowledging great work and expressing appreciation, particularly during stressful news cycles, and insisting your staffers use their time off. It means being vulnerable and establishing trust so they feel safe enough to tell you when they’re struggling.

As leaders, we set expectations. So, let’s set a new standard where rest isn’t a privilege, it’s a requirement, and where duty of care isn’t a perk, it’s a prerequisite.

As journalists, we show up for our readers each day. In 2023, let’s do what it takes to support and sustain our community —  let’s show up for each other.

Shanté Cosme is chief content officer of Global Press.

Perhaps no phrase was more ubiquitous or misunderstood in 2022 than “quiet quitting.” While the idea of employees mailing it in en masse had many HR departments squirming, the reality of the trend is more nuanced. Quiet quitting isn’t about the downfall of ambition. It’s a symptom of the pandemic’s emotional whiplash and the inevitable blowback of burnout. But mostly, it’s a call to action to care for ourselves, and for each other.

In a moment where we’re rethinking what work should look and feel like, we need to reimagine the modern newsroom through the lens of wellbeing. If we want our industry to survive, we need to think critically about our responsibility to each other.

The pace and pressure of newsroom culture is especially susceptible to breeding burnout. Enduring the relentless, often bleak 24-hour news cycle requires a rare type of resilience. It’s why many journalists continue to leave the industry entirely, choosing to prioritize their mental health over prestigious media jobs.

To address the emotional toll of this important work, we need to offer more than performative gestures; we need to take the steps required to shift newsroom culture entirely. We need to stop normalizing exhaustion and embrace radical empathy.

In her 2021 book Radical Empathy: Finding A Path to Bridging Racial Divide, political scientist Terri E. Givens describes radical empathy as “moving beyond walking in someone else’s shoes and…taking actions that will not only help that person but will also improve our society.”

So, how do we put radical empathy into action?

For starters, we can proactively provide journalists with the tools necessary to manage stress and mitigate harm during trauma-inducing newscyles. Global Press, the nonprofit newsroom I lead, is dedicated to training and hiring local women reporters in the least-covered places on earth. To support them in that work, we created our award-winning Duty of Care program, which includes a global wellness network that provides unlimited counseling sessions and mental health resources in six languages.

We can’t just expect journalists to practice self-care; we need to put processes in place to ensure they aren’t overworked and actively help them manage their workloads. As newsrooms downsize, we need to reassess outputs and adjust expectations accordingly. We need to hire weekend and night editors rather than allowing journalists to overextend themselves.

We can structure newsrooms to better support Black and brown staffers, who are often marginalized, silenced, underpaid and underrepresented. When racial justice stories dominate the news cycle, we need to check in, offer mental health days, and give reporters the freedom to opt out of stressful coverage, including requests for sensitivity reads. These behaviors need to be backed up with policy. At Global Press we formalized this idea through a non-assignment policy that allows reporters to avoid stories that undermine their wellbeing, either mentally or physically; this should be an industry-wide standard.

We need to make it clear, at every turn, that our people are more important than pageviews. Being a journalist is more dangerous than ever. In 2022 alone, 67 media professionals were killed and 375 journalists were jailed for their work. In countries where press freedom is limited, this threat is especially pervasive. To underscore our commitment to the safety of our journalists, particularly those abroad, we need to outline clear protective measures and protocols. Every newsroom needs a duty of care policy. Prioritizing digital, legal, physical, and emotional security is not only ethical, it’s integral.

But above all, practicing radical empathy means simply being human. It means checking in on how people are doing in 1:1s, not just because you want them to be more productive, but because you care. It means acknowledging great work and expressing appreciation, particularly during stressful news cycles, and insisting your staffers use their time off. It means being vulnerable and establishing trust so they feel safe enough to tell you when they’re struggling.

As leaders, we set expectations. So, let’s set a new standard where rest isn’t a privilege, it’s a requirement, and where duty of care isn’t a perk, it’s a prerequisite.

As journalists, we show up for our readers each day. In 2023, let’s do what it takes to support and sustain our community —  let’s show up for each other.

Shanté Cosme is chief content officer of Global Press.

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