Maintaining Your Mental Health During the Coronavirus
By Elisheva Wimberly
COVID-19, a respiratory disease more commonly called the coronavirus, has shaken the world to its core. School districts transitioned to online learning following shelter-in-place orders; restaurants closed their dining rooms, only allowing drive-thru and carryout orders only; and the unemployment rate has risen drastically as people, including journalists, have lost their jobs.
As the United States grapples with the repercussions of the coronavirus, it’s also important for journalists covering these stories to take care of themselves. Using this epidemic positively by concentrating on self-care can help reduce the risk of stress and depression. Clinical psychologist and Agnes Scott College professor Dr. Janelle S. Piefer spoke with The Byline about how to take a mental break amid the coronavirus pandemic. Here are some of her tips:
1. Go easy on yourself
Be gentle with yourself. You can do well one day and then struggle the next day being under quarantine. Piefer says it’s important not to be the “ideal coper,” a standard perpetuated in the media to go above and beyond in times of crisis that are often very difficult to control. “Be the best version of yourself and not the perfectionist standard,” she said. “It’s not going to be one single right way for everyone. When people set unobtainable goals they are least likely to finish them,” Piefer said. It’s important to identify achievable steps that can help you and avoid those set by society.
2. Carve out time for things that make you happy
Meditation, social interactions over the phone, google hangout or watching a Netflix show, will help keep you mentally balanced. “Having a release along the way will result in an emotional marathon release,” Piefer said. “People tend to be recharged when they connect with things important to them.” It may be meditative to go on a bike ride, dance, paint or give back to others. Find moments where you feel centered, clear and present in the moment.
3. Taking social media breaks
If you’re on it too much, social media can get overwhelming. Carve out time to get news updates to obtain information where you’re getting more knowledge and you’re well informed. Journalists need boundaries centered around self-care in terms of secondary exposures. “There needs to be a place where you separate work identity and social life otherwise it will become overly immersive,” Piefer said. “Be more intentional where you take off your journalist hat and put on your self-care hat.”
4. Get some fresh air
Sitting on your balcony, bike riding, walking or even going out on your front yard will clear your head. Georgia’s shelter-in-place orders allow residents to go out for grocery store runs and to get some exercises, so use the outside air to your advantage. Piefer urged everyone to read the order and figure out what they’re comfortable doing within the confines of it. “Some people will say they’re comfortable going in their backyard and not going past there,” Piefer said.
5. Use counseling and teletherapy
Covering the coronavirus can weigh on any journalist and it may be difficult to get therapy in person. Piefer recommended teletherapy, which allows you to have access to mental health services online. Mental health service sites Therapy for black Girls specializes in support for black women. Magazine site Psychology Today has a searchable database for teletherapy in your area.
Piefer also has a teletherapy referral guide which provides information about where to find teletherapy and wellness consultations. She also recommends reaching out to insurance companies; many are waiving copays and deductibles. “I think it can be really helpful, especially with all the insurance companies’ resources. It’s pretty unprecedented times that they are offering these resources,” Piefer said.
People of color are going to be impacted, especially financially, as they were during the recession and the great depression, Piefer said, adding black women tend to suffer financially the most. “We know after the immediate physical crisis ends we will be dealing with the mental health crisis for quite some time,” she said.
Elisheva Wimberly is a rising senior at Georgia State University.
Five Tips for Covering the Coronavirus
By Alexis Grace
The novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has done more damage than most expected. The respiratory illness that spreads through contact has not only led to statewide shelter-in-place orders but has heavily impacted America’s workforce. While many are out of jobs, the coronavirus’s media coverage has been increasing every day causing media professionals to work a little harder than usual.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) recently held a webinar to discuss the tools, attitudes, and care every journalist should strive for today during a trying time. While it is important to get the story, taking care of yourself is equally as important. Here are some tips veteran journalists NABJ Region III Director Rod Carter (top left), Poynter staff writer and trainer (top right) and NABJ Region II Director Sia Nyorker gave during the webinar:
1. Credibility is Key
“Credibility is going to be critical in the days ahead,” he said. “If I do not believe you, then it won’t matter what urgent news you have.”
Tompkins said journalists should gain viewers’ trust by being honest and asking questions viewers want answers to. “You have to be really thoughtful about what you’re telling people,” he said.
2. Be Personable
Reflecting on her work, NABJ Region II Director and Cleveland 19 News reporter Sia Nyorker said interviewees may be more comfortable in a conversational setting during interviews.
“The best answers are from when we are not in interview mode anymore,” she said, speaking on her experiences interviewing everyday citizens. Nyorker said there were better conversations and answers to her questions post-interview.
3. Get Subjective Answers
During your interviews, it is important to gain clarity for your audience by asking questions that evoke emotion. Tompkins suggested journalists ask questions that are short and easy to understand.
“Subjective questions give you much better answers,” he said. When discussing how to speak with health officials, Tompkins recommended asking questions that are brief but yield accurate answers. “The longer the question, the crappier the answer,” he said.
4. Remain steadfast
With endless updates on the coronavirus, it may be difficult to know what the next story should be. Tompkins suggested journalists focus on the current issue surrounding the virus and make that the story.
He encouraged journalists to remain positive during an unoptimistic time. “It’s not true that you are the problem. The truth is you’re telling them stuff they do not want to hear,” Tompkins said.
NABJ Region III director Rod Carter believes there are positive stories out there to give people hope. “We’re really on the front line of keeping the public informed and what we do is important,” he said.
5. Take Time to Unwind
As with any exhaustive news cycle, journalists need to take a mental break. This is especially the case for those cooped up in their homes covering the virus.
“You’ve got to unplug. Do not make the last thing you do be consuming more news,” Tompkins said. “You’ve got to stop it. Do what we do with children — read a story. You have to start taking better care of yourself. This is going to be a marathon.”
Nyorker reminded media professionals they are not alone. “You can call (us)if you need to cry or bounce ideas,” she said. “Just remember we’re all in this together. None of this has been done before.”
Alexis Grace is a senior at Clark Atlanta University. She is also president of the school’s NABJ-CAU chapter.
FEATURE STORY: Atlanta journalists face disrupted newsrooms amid global COVID-19 pandemic
By: Darriea Clark
Adhering to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation to social distance during the coronavirus outbreak, Atlanta newsrooms have had to adapt and find ways to continue to provide pertinent information to its audiences. They have faced changing schedules, increased meetings, parenting while working, and the decision to report from home or on the field.
“We don’t want reporters to take unnecessary risks,” The Atlanta-Journal-Constitution’s deputy managing editor Leroy Chapman said. “While there’s not a prohibition, we are pretty selective about assignments.”
Chapman said the coverage of the Masters in Augusta is a cultural Georgia story that the AJC needed to report from the field. Other stories he mentioned cover how Georgia residents are dealing with or not following social distancing recommendations and how some are coming together to support their community through food drives, fundraisers, and personal protective equipment (PPE) creation.
Not all reporters have the ability to remain in the confines of their homes. Photographers bring stories and scenes to the audience, which is difficult to do while practicing social distancing. “I can’t work from home, because I can’t take pictures of my yard,” AJC photojournalist Alyssa Pointer said. “That’s not news.”
Pointer came in contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19 while on assignment at the Georgia Legislature. After quarantining for two weeks, she made it a priority to obtain PPE equipment. She admitted to having concerns about her perception as a journalist and duty to remain neutral in reporting situations.
“Wearing a mask is advocating for myself and telling myself I matter,” Pointer said. “Regardless of how everyone else in the media feels, I am going to protect my immune system and my body. It is also to make other people feel safe to at least have a conversation with me. (The subject) can feel like I’m trying to take the necessary precautions for all of us.”
While there has technically always been a capability to work remotely, WSB-TV anchor and reporter Lori Wilson said that social distancing is foreign for journalists. Prior to COVID-19, reporters worked directly with photographers, rode in cars with them, and were able to go straight to the source with their crew close in hand. “You were rushing toward the scene of anything terrible that was happening,” Wilson said. “Now, it’s really challenging.” There is less opportunity to track and hunt down leads.
Fortunately, technology provides avenues to connect and interview subjects digitally. Yet what’s missing is the ability for journalists to steer conversations and capture emotional responses that you can only get in person. Mannerisms and descriptors are lost. “Now it’s a little more cold and impersonal,” Wilson said.
Wilson reports from home and anchors from the WSB-TV studio. “We’re fortunate that we’ve got multiple studios and performance areas,” she said. “Even as we anchor, we’re on a separate set. Our makeup artists are wearing gloves and masks. It’s just one person with them in the room at a time whereas before we may have had three artists and three people getting their face done.”
Using an app provided by the station and a ring light, Wilson shoots her own live shots from her basement.
“I used to be able to sit back and relax while my photographer was setting up and worrying about the technical end,” Wilson said. “The live shots are scary but great. It’s a feeling of accomplishment when you get it done. I’m thinking about things I haven’t had to before a lot more.”
While interviewing subjects from home, Wilson developed a “third role” as a subject coach. She tries to ensure subjects are not moving while on-air and are well lit. Despite any amount of preparation, technology is a more unpredictable factor that provides difficulty. “It can be a challenge when someone else may not have a strong signal,” she said. She said Zoom is the best platform for interviews because it allows you to record directly on the device. This means you’re guaranteed a certain sound and picture quality. FaceTime is a little more tricky, but it’s the most common, she said.
“The standards of quality have changed a little bit, but we still want to put good stuff on the air and make it as clean as possible,” Wilson said.
With constant updates and misinformation on the coronavirus, consumers are turning to local newsrooms more than ever. “Our audience has gotten much bigger,” Chapman said. “They’re hungry for information. It is our job to make sure we’re focused on solutions.” To battle social media posts and chain messages that spread terror and disinformation, the AJC has decided to run explanatory journalism pieces that correct rumors regarding COVID-19. “In terms of us being able to vet for information, we have multiple sources to corroborate what we’re talking about. We’re fortunate to have beat reporters that have built great relationships with sources,” Chapman said.
“This is a big moment for local news,” Chapman said. “This is a time for us to demonstrate our value. If there’s a silver lining, maybe it’s that we’re able to help our community.”
As for the future of the journalism industry, Lori Wilson is saddened but hopeful. “I think for better or worse, this business will be different,” she said. “Life will be different. News, as we’ve traditionally done it, is probably going to stay the same but I think [it] will get slimmer. Across the board, I think we’ll start doing more with less. For journalists and people who want to tell stories, the opportunities are endless, and I think more and more people are realizing that now.”
Darriea Clark is a recent graduate of Syracuse University and Atlanta-based reporter.
This issue of The Byline was edited by Raisa Habersham and Tianna Faulkner.