NEW: Despite a mountain of headline-worthy media departures, I believe our industry has failed to properly examine the ways reporters covering the pandemic are struggling—and what can be done about it. This is my attempt to correct that. https://t.co/3d8exYN1dC— Olivia Messer ? (@OliviaMesser) May 6, 2021
Here’s what I found: My drowning while COVID reporting wasn’t unique. A dozen reporters and editors told me they don’t feel supported by their newsroom leaders, don’t have the tools they need to handle trauma they’re absorbing, and don’t think their bosses even really care.— Olivia Messer ? (@OliviaMesser) May 6, 2021
For mass shootings and natural disasters, most people get that these are traumatic for the victims, first responders, witnesses, and survivors. It’s less acknowledged inside and outside of the news industry that this is also true for the journalists who tell the stories.— Olivia Messer ? (@OliviaMesser) May 6, 2021
If we can agree that the coronavirus is a mass casualty event rife with trauma at every level—and that the reporters seeing the piles of bodies and interviewing grieving families every day will be affected by it, then we must conclude that pandemic reporting is trauma reporting.— Olivia Messer ? (@OliviaMesser) May 6, 2021
Journalists at the most widely read news sites in the nation told me they’re sobbing after meetings, on calls during work, when the day ends. “Work very hard and be miserable and not complain about it,” said one former reporter. “I just know I had to leave for my mental health.”— Olivia Messer ? (@OliviaMesser) May 6, 2021
The pandemic completely changed the weight of the job, said one reporter who currently works at a national outlet and has repeatedly broken exclusive stories this year. Many of us felt, as she explained, that “people could literally die if we did our jobs wrong.”— Olivia Messer ? (@OliviaMesser) May 6, 2021
Reporters said they also blamed themselves at times for the intensity of the pandemic. “The worst-case scenario was repeating… Why hadn’t Texas and Arizona learned from New York and New Jersey? Was that partly the media’s fault? Should we have written stories a different way?”— Olivia Messer ? (@OliviaMesser) May 6, 2021
A local journalist—whose coverage area included one of the first cases of COVID-19 in the US—told me that after interviewing grieving families, she began to see individual deaths she covered as evidence of “falling short in my duties” to prevent them.— Olivia Messer ? (@OliviaMesser) May 6, 2021
“By the election last year, I found myself randomly crying during the day, crying between calls,” said another national reporter. “It wasn’t until I unexpectedly started crying mid-conversation with a colleague that I thought, gosh, maybe this is not normal.”— Olivia Messer ? (@OliviaMesser) May 6, 2021
“Some of the best journalists are the ones where you can hear, in their voice and their story, that they [understand the weight of the trauma they’re writing about],” said UCLA’s Dr. Vickie Mays. “You have to ask yourself, does this take a toll?”— Olivia Messer ? (@OliviaMesser) May 6, 2021
Per Bruce Shapiro, of the @DartCenter, reporters who covered the front lines and the big-picture numbers spent the year “closer both to the loss, the grief, the suffering of COVID patients” and to “the full reality which most of us can keep at the fringes of our consciousness.”— Olivia Messer ? (@OliviaMesser) May 6, 2021
Many said their individual bosses made things more bearable, but an entire industry can’t rely on the humanity of a few good editors; it must be accompanied by policies to safeguard workers and address the psychic burden of the work.— Olivia Messer ? (@OliviaMesser) May 6, 2021
If you can agree that COVID reporting is trauma reporting—which ample research has shown can cause or worsen the mental health of the journalists doing the job—then trauma itself becomes a work hazard. And reimbursement for mental health services starts making a lot more sense.— Olivia Messer ? (@OliviaMesser) May 6, 2021
Take the time to speak to the journalists in your newsroom and you’ll find that they’re proposing many of the same ideas as experts do. Look at any newsroom union: many have been busy lobbying for more money for mental health services, fairer wages, more time off, more training.— Olivia Messer ? (@OliviaMesser) May 6, 2021
Look, this piece was gutting to write, but I have faith that it can do real good. And I feel compelled to actively participate in the discourse on trauma and journalism—and what we can do about it—in order to help make sure there is a humane, sustainable industry to return to.— Olivia Messer ? (@OliviaMesser) May 6, 2021
COVID has been traumatizing for coddled Millennial female “journalists” virtually none of whom have suffocated to death like all the old people who have died from the virus.
“When I told my editors at The Daily Beast that I needed to quit my job as the newsroom’s lead COVID reporter, I couldn’t even say the word “quit.”
Even now, weeks later, it feels like admitting failure.
I was working my dream job in a newsroom I loved where I was writing about what felt like the most important beat in the world. I felt lucky to be employed and alive in the middle of a global pandemic.
But in between meetings and interviews and filing stories, I was falling apart. I was writing poems about suicide. I went whole days without eating at all. At one point, I collapsed onto the floor from dehydration. I was vomiting from stress. I developed a stye in my left eye. I wasn’t getting out of bed most days. I was crying all the time. My nightmares, in which I was shot or raped or watching coworkers burn alive in front of me, scared me so much that some nights I refused to sleep at all. When I wasn’t too afraid to sleep, I was still restless because I was too angry or too anxious or too sad or too filled with shame. I sometimes woke in the early morning hours with bile climbing up my throat and the simmer of heartburn in my chest. There were times I took sick days because I couldn’t stop sobbing long enough to string even a few pitches together.
I was struggling to stay above water when the footage of the January 6 insurrection triggered the post-traumatic stress disorder I thought I’d shaken years ago. By the time someone I loved died a few weeks later, I was already drowning. …
The combination of immersive trauma and moral injury can be profound, especially combined with racist and sexist violence that has occurred throughout the pandemic.
“By the election last year, I found myself randomly crying during the day, crying between calls,” said the COVID reporter, who has since acknowledged that learning about the term helped her understand how much more difficult her job had become. “It wasn’t until I unexpectedly started crying mid-conversation with a colleague that I thought, gosh, maybe this is not normal.”
Journalism is already “a very fertile breeding ground for moral injury,” but that’s especially the case “when it can mean the difference between large numbers of people living or dying,” said Shapiro. …
But journalists are also all dealing with the enormous pressure of needing to reinvent how we work and disseminate information during a “trauma-drenched” news cycle, said Shapiro. I would add to that mix the online harassment directed disproportionately at journalists marginalized by racism and sexism. …”
Maybe these women should find another occupation?
Maybe they should be pregnant or watching their kids at home?
Maybe their bodies are trying to tell them that their biological clock is ticking and they have stupid choices in life by getting a college degree and writing a bunch of worthless blog posts for a shitlib website?