Don't Jump off the Plane: Strategies for Dealing with Stressful Work Environments

Published on
August 27, 2010

As always, you can find job, internship, awards and fellowship opportunities at the end of this post.

The news of the news isn't great. The Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism's annual State of the Media makes clear that ad revenue for newspapers, radio and television is plummeting, and online revenue is not making up the difference. New media startups and nonprofit ventures are exciting, but still comprise a tiny fraction of the total dollars that go into journalism on the whole. The report's introduction explains the evolution of newsrooms this way: "Old media are trying to imagine the new smaller newsroom of the future in the relic of their old ones. New media are imagining the new newsroom from a blank slate."

Under the circumstances, it's surprising more journalists aren't just jumping off the plane via the emergency exit chute.

To get advice for those who don't want to jump off the plane just yet, I turned to Bob Papper who has a lot of experience with newsroom management. This week at CareerGPS he offers simple strategies for approaching the workplace stress that comes with shrinking newsrooms.

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Papper is the director of the annual News Staffing and Profitability Survey published by the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) and chair of Journalism, Media Studies and Public Relations at Hofstra University in Long Island. The findings of this year's RTDNA survey echo the results of the Pew survey: Overall in non-satellite television stations, staffing is falling while news content on the rise. In conducting the survey, Papper has learned a lot about how people cope with changing newsroom environments. He is a broadcast specialist and says that in television particularly, it will be difficult for newsrooms to sustain increased workloads. "We've got a fair number of people in the newsroom who are close to the breaking point," he says.

"Asking people to do more with less is not a long-term strategy, it's a coping strategy," he cautions. "Once the economy gets better -- and it always does eventually -- and people have more options, both within the industry as well as outside, then both pay and working conditions will improve."

In the meantime, handling the added workload and uncertainty of the recession can be stressful. "If you're one of the survivors in the newsroom, and you look around at empty desks, then you don't say 'no,'" Papper says. Papper offers a simple strategy for managers and their employees to deal with difficult situations in the newsroom: evaluate, take responsibility, make a plan, and execute.

Evaluate. If you are worried about your job, look around and see who has been let go. Papper has found common themes: Those laid off are often senior journalists who make more money but did not stay up-to-date with technology and new media.

If you find yourself stretched for time, begin by evaluating how you spend it. As a newsroom consultant, Papper learned that time management was one of the biggest problems for employees.

One way to evaluate your time is to simply track how you spend it. (There are many easy-to-use programs that I have used to help with this: Lifehacker reviews five interesting time tracking programs, all of them free. RescueTime comes as extensions to Firefox and Chrome if you want to track exactly how much time you spend on, say, Facebook. ) Once you know how you are spending your time you can begin to ask if you are being as productive as you'd like to be. No one is looking for 100 percent efficiency, he says, but self-awareness is very important. "You can't complain about being too busy while you're wasting time," Papper says.

Take responsibility. "We seldom have perfect days. We seldom have perfect stories," he says. "What we need is something that works."

What does that mean in day-to-day terms? Efficiency. We have to prioritize getting stories and gaining skills. "It's really hard to say that as many hours as you're working, what you need to do is work harder," says Papper. "But it's really critical to get and keep up with new media skill sets."

Make a plan. Once you've confronted the issue, you might not be able to come up with a ten-minute fix. Your plan might take two years instead. But it is important to be concrete -- and not just decide to do something "in the next few months." Having a set plan and seeing a positive future can help you cope with your current situation.

You might find that your ability to change your work environment is limited. If your goal is to maximize your employability to eventually find a new job, Papper says, commit to a skill-building plan. Learn one type of new software every month for a year, for example. If you want to produce more stories, limit the time you spend on things that are not going to get you the story.

Learn new media skills at home if you can't do so at work. You can sign up for courses, workshops, and online tutorials to get basic skills in different media. One way to stay balanced and enjoy the process is to incorporate this learning with your personal life. You can learn to use a video camera and edit footage by making family documentaries and learn social networking skills by using these sites to share video, audio and images with your friends.

Execute. Commit to your concrete plan and meet your goals. "Find a community, share coping strategies, and realize that nothing has to be forever," Papper says. Concentrate on moving forward, not on reliving your past decisions.

Are you in a stressful work situation? How do you cope? Share in comments.

As always, here are some opportunities that might help you move forward in your career.

Jobs, Fellowships, Awards and Grants

Senior Editor and Managing Editor -- Medical, Continuing Education Alliance
Location: Stamford, Connecticut
Status: Full Time
Medium: Medical Education

Editorial Assistant (Health), Time Inc. (free registration required at
Location: New York, New York
Status: Full Time
Medium: Magazine, Online

Health Business Reporter, Atlantic Information Services, Inc. (via
Location: Washington, D.C.
Status: Full Time
Medium: Publishing

Writer (generalist or specialist), Communications
Location: Telecommute
Status: Freelance
Medium: Oniline

Video/Photo Editor, Mayo Clinic
Location: Rochester, Minnesota
Status: Full Time
Medium: Television, In-house

Association of Health Care Journalists - Centers for Disease Control Health Journalism Fellowships
Eligibility: Professional journalists working in the United States
Award: Week of study of public health topics at CDC campuses, membership, travel, lodging and meals
Deadline: Oct. 22
From the Website: "The AHCJ-CDC Health Journalism Fellows will: Attend sessions on epidemiology, global disease prevention efforts, pandemic flu preparedness, climate change, vaccine safety, obesity, autism and more; tour the CDC director's National Emergency Operations Center; meet new sources on policy and research; learn how to tap the agency's abundant resources to produce better stories."

REMINDER: California Health Journalism Fellowships (a program of the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, which publishes this website)
Eligibility: Open to professional journalists, including freelancers, in California who have a strong interest in health news, though they need not be dedicated health reporters.
Award: About one week's worth of all-expenses paid intensive seminars in Los Angeles and
Deadline: Sept. 2, 2010
From the Website: "Taught by prize-winning journalists, community health leaders, policy analysts and health care experts, this Fellowship program features two intensive sessions, held three months apart. Fellows participate in field trips, workshops and seminars highlighting some of the top health challenges facing California."

REMINDER: Excellence in Journalism Competition, Society of Professional Journalists Northern California
Eligibility: For stories published between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010 by news outlets or individuals based in Northern California, with $25-$35 entry fee
Award: Multiple categories, including special prizes in environmental and health care reporting
Deadline: Sept. 7, 2010
From the Website: "These awards honor the journalists whose work best reflects the SPJ ideals of initiative, integrity, talent and compassion."

REMINDER: Fund for Investigative Journalism
Eligibility: U.S. Journalists in local, regional and/or ethnic media
Duration: None
Benefits: $500 to $10,000 grants for investigative projects and mentorship
Deadline: Sept. 8, 2010
From the Website: "For more than forty years, the Fund for Investigative Journalism has supported work by reporters who do not have the resources to do their investigations, with grants ranging from $500 to $10,000. The Fund's distinguished board not only decides which applicants to help, but also provides guidance in pursuing stories and placing them with media outlets. In a new partnership with Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Fund also matches grant recipients with veteran journalists who serve as mentors, at a recipient's request."

REMINDER: Abe Fellowship for Journalists
Eligibility: Open to citizens or permanent residents of the United States or Japan with at least five years of professional journalism experience, with priority given to U.S. or Japanese journalists with no prior experience in the other country.
Award: Up to $23,500 for field work abroad and a fellows retreat to produce analysis or feature story about public policy topic.
Deadline: Sept. 15, 2010
From the Website: "The Program defines policy-relevant research as the study of existing public policies for the purpose of: a) deepening understanding of those policies and their consequences; and b) formulating more effective policies. Policy-relevance also pertains to the public dialogue on contemporary social issues."

REMINDER: Philadelphia Enterprise Reporting Fund, J-Lab
Eligibility: Proposed projects must be about Philadelphia or the surrounding areas and must come with a distribution plan.
Award: $5,000 awards to 10 projects
Deadline: September 16, 2010
From the Website: "The Philadelphia Enterprise Reporting Fund is a pilot project designed to develop opportunities for amplifying public affairs journalism in the region. The purpose of this fund is to help in-depth reporting projects get off the ground and to explore collaboration opportunities among news providers in the city and surrounding counties."

REMINDER: U.S. Young Journalist Program, Fulbright Kommission
Eligibility: Must be a U.S. citizen, with academic achievement and a good proposal and good to very good German language skills
Award: 10 month stay in Germany with stipends and expenses, as well as language training
Deadline: Oct. 18, 2010
From the Website: "The approximately 10-month stay begins in September and typically consists of an initial research phase, during which the grantee becomes familiar with his/her project in a German setting, followed by one or more internships with German institutions of print or broadcast media."