(Not So) Basic Journalism Skills: Dealing With Stress

by - November 02, 2013

Have you ever been so in-tune with your career, on the fast track to success, when all of a sudden, Bam! That burnt-rubber smell hits you out of nowhere? Then you realize that fast track was leading you straight to a burn out.

I read an article in Cosmo recently that talked about burning out on our careers. It said more people, women especially, are turning their Monday through Friday 9-to-5 jobs into seven days a week, 24-hour a day jobs. I don't know if I buy into their reasoning (insecurity, fear others are rooting for our downfall), but I know first-hand how easy it is to crash head first into a burn out.

I've talked before, here most recently, about the stresses of my chosen career. Unfortunately, college doesn't necessarily prepare journalists for the reality of the newsroom. If something doesn't go your way in school, it's no big deal. The same can't be said if it happens at your news organization.

Each day is filled with deadlines - you've got to have that story written by this time, video needs to be edited by that time - and the people you're relying on to help you reach those deadlines don't always take them into consideration. The closer you get to a deadline and aren't getting the goal accomplished, the more stressed you become. Sometimes it feels as if the clock is your worst enemy.

Then there's the stress of the story itself. In this profession, you're on the front line of pretty much every bad situation that happens in your coverage area. We all try not to be affected by the bad things we see, but when we're forced to re-see a senseless tragedy over and over again as the coverage moves forward, you can't help but to be affected in some way.

Then there's the reality that the newsroom doesn't always run as smoothly as you think it should. As a producer, I feel this particular type of stress acutely. A quarter of your scripts aren't written 30 minutes before your show airs; the video your show depends on isn't in two minutes before you start; stories are falling apart left and right all day long; and you have no idea how you're going to fill your time.

Then when you add in the stress of your personal life, it can be overwhelming.

I'm probably starting to sound like a broken record in this series, but there is no one-size-fits-all approach to handling stress. However, Poynter.org has put together a list of five tips to help manage your stress in this career. I use all of those techniques on a daily basis, along with some other self-perfected methods.

My favorite way to unwind at the end of the day is with a hot, relaxing bubble bath while reading a magazine or book. I know many journalists who prefer a glass of wine (or maybe three) and others who like to sweat it out at the gym. When I'm not at work, I don't check my work email and I don't watch the news. No matter your method, the point is you have to find some type of outlet, otherwise you'll be headed straight for a burn out.

For me, it's a balancing act. News is important, but never more important than my personal life or my health. I understand the needs of the business, but I also know when to pull back. When you figure that part out, you'll be good to go.

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  1. I think you're on the right path, Ashton. The stress management techniques outlined in the 5 Tips for Journalists are valuable and you seem to be employing them or variations thereof in your daily life. You did a great job of listing the factors beyond the producer's control that tend to ramp up the stress level as the newscast deadline approaches. I can still feel the stress when I think back to my years in the business and how I had to deal with disorganized, undisciplined members of the news staff who made my job much more difficult than it needed to be.

    Your idea of taking a soothing hot bubble bath and reading a magazine at the end of your shift is an excellent one. Too often I went out partying and bar hopping to blow off steam which left me tired and hungover the next day, making it all the more challenging for me to meet the next deadline. It is very important to take care of yourself physically and emotionally because your ability to perform your duties begins to slip if you don't.

  2. dang your career IS stressful! i guess i never stopped to think about what goes in to it every single day!!!

    some people (MY BOSS) thrive on stress and pressure. i can't stand it. sure it motivates one, but it can by so trying to keep up with it all.

    1. Most days aren't that stressful, especially in my market--which is one of the biggest reasons why I don't want to go anywhere higher! However, it can be draining emotionally, especially since we're always face-first with bad stories.