As journalists committed to helping our communities get the information they need to understand and cope with difficult circumstances, we often find ourselves running toward crises. But if we want to sustain our ability to do that work, we need to take better care of ourselves so we can better serve our communities.
Mitigating and limiting exposure to coronavirus
- Social distancing—limiting or avoiding close physical contact with other people—helps reduce our chances of coming into contact with or transmitting the virus to others . When we talk, exhale, sneeze, or cough, we spray small droplets. Those can be infected with COVID-19, and anyone in close range might breathe them in. The CDC definition of social distancing as it applies to COVID-19 includes avoiding large gatherings and maintaining a distance of 6 feet (2 meters) from other people when possible. This doesn’t mean we can’t leave our homes—unless, of course, we can’t because of so-called “shelter in place” orders. And it does mean we should take care in being around other people.
- Social distancing is designed to slow an outbreak, reducing the burden on health care workers and resources. The “flatten the curve” visualization is a good representation of lessons learned from events like the 1918 influenza pandemic and provides a simple and helpful way to think about how a health care system can handle different rates of COVID-19 transmission.
- Group practices matter, and so do individual decisions. The most recent research suggests that we can spread the virus even when we aren’t showing any symptoms. What might be a “mild” case for us can easily be something much more severe for someone else. Social distancing relies on both individual actions and collective behavior. Communities may limit large gatherings by canceling sporting events and concerts and even closing schools. Individuals can choose to stay away from a crowded pub, or go to the store during off-hours, to minimize the likelihood of being within 6 feet of other people.
- A note on children in your care: play dates and other occasions in which kids are in close contact with others (including being at school) will undermine any efforts at social distancing elsewhere in the household.
- Avoiding handshakes and hugs can minimize the spread of the virus. WHO suggests greetings with no physical contact, like a wave, nod, or bow.
- These practices help even if we feel healthy. It’s worth reiterating: People with COVID-19 aren’t always symptomatic. Populations at lower risk of the worst health outcomes can still be carriers. Reducing physical contact with other people reduces the likelihood of our unwittingly passing the virus to someone at higher risk.
General health care
- Think about your safety before accepting an assignment. The Committee to Protect Journalists has put together a list of considerations for reporters and editors covering COVID-19 — including the possibility of encountering hostility and racist attacks.
- Remember the basics. Keep a glass of water on your desk. Drink it. Then refill it. Then repeat. Take breaks, walk around, mute notifications when you can. We like Emily Goligoski’s caregiving suggestions for yourself and others.
- Reporters who cover trauma can also experience trauma. It’s OK to not feel OK, and it’s OK to ask for help.
- Remember your basic need for space, rest, food, and sleep. This pandemic is an immediate crisis that comes with an indefinite timeline. As we help our communities understand how to respond to COVID-19 over the next weeks and months, we can help one another be more effective by giving ourselves space to rest and recover. Sleep. Eat. Step away intentionally.
- Be kind to yourself. We aren’t just journalists covering a crisis, we’re people experiencing this crisis ourselves. Many of us are figuring out brand-new ways to work remotely, trying to help people understand a situation that’s confusing and changing fast, and managing health needs for ourselves and loved ones—all at the same time. Give yourself permission to set aside the ways we often think about “productivity” and “focus.”
- Be kind to your teammates. If you feel able, reach out and offer support to the people around you. If someone needs help, this simple set of tactics can guide you in providing peer support: Focus attention on the person you’re helping; listen actively; remember your role is to help, not fix; feel with the person, not for them. Genuine, warm connection helps spread joy in a community, so even something as light as sharing pet photos and favorite recipes is a way to have one anothers' backs. Keep in mind that all connection takes effort, and sometimes a simple text (“Hey, I’m thinking about you! 💜”) can be enough to help someone feel supported yet not obligated to give a lengthy reply.
- Recognize that suddenly we’re all working differently and not everyone will adapt in the same way. On newly remote teams, some colleagues might love working alone, while others may find it challenging. We can support those who find it more difficult by looking for opportunities—from 1:1 calls to building new practices as a group—to strengthen our sense of working with others.
- If you’re a manager, you have a dramatic effect on the mental health of your team even if you don’t realize it. Leadership isn’t just asked to do no harm, we’re called to create situations in which people can thrive. Taking care of yourself is one way to help people navigate crisis: When you set boundaries on work time, talk transparently about things you’re still figuring out, and openly respond to your own needs, you give your team permission to do the same. Think of it as the “put your mask on first” version of newsroom leadership. In addition to leading by example, pay extra attention to team patterns, especially as people suddenly find themselves working in different ways under unprecedented uncertainty. Research shows that lack of guidance is a significant source of stress for journalists, so approach difficult conversations with care and think about proactive moves you can make that help everyone feel able to rest and communicate honestly.
- Now is a great time to ruthlessly prioritize your work plans. Everyone’s work life has changed and we are in a global crisis. That stress is going to change how productive we can be—so it’s extra-important to be kind to yourself. If you play a role in managing your newsroom’s project timelines or product roadmaps, remember that newsroom roles may need to shift to accommodate caregivers’ needs and schedules. When planning for your team, recognize that non-caregivers won’t necessarily be able to pick up that slack either.
- For even more on this, read the next section on taking care of one another in the workplace.
- This is a relay race, not a marathon or a sprint. Covering the ways COVID-19 affects our communities is going to be a collaborative effort, and we can all feel great about handing things off at some times and picking one another up in others. You might already have more people on your side than you think—this is a good time to celebrate them and build stronger connections.