In this week’s episode we hear from Hannah Storm, founder and director of Headlines network, an organisation working to improve the mental health of people working in the media. She tells us about why mental health can be bad among media professionals, what organisations and individuals can do to make things better, and about Headlines’ new podcast and their incredible first episode featuring Lyse Doucet and Lyndsey Hilsum talking about mitigating the risks involved in frontline journalism.

In the news roundup the team asks if The Times is right to keep its Ukraine war coverage paywalled and if we are in a constant state of Trump Bump. In the news in brief we discuss Australian indies being cut out of the news media bargaining code, Substack’s anti-internet changes, and the FT’s latest milestone.

Donate to aid journalists at the Kyiv Independent here.

The full transcript will be live here shortly, but for now, here are some highlights:

Personal experience

I began my career as a journalist, started at Reuters, the news agency, what feels like a million years ago, but it’s probably only less than 25 years ago. I’ve spent a lot of time living and working and traveling overseas and working in different types of media; online, broadcast, print. I’ve been very lucky to work for some of the biggest news organizations in the world.

I spent time until about 2010 doing on the ground journalism and then I covered the earthquake in Haiti for Channel Four News. And it’s funny, because talking to you now I can feel my breath speeding up, but I didn’t realize how badly I’d been impacted by it. And then fast forward a few years, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – complex PTSD, as my family likes to say – I never do anything by halves.

Setting up Headlines Network

I’ve been through the traditional forms of therapy, but writing has been really therapeutic to me. I relive my experiences through writing and during that process, I started thinking about stories and storytelling, and how often we’re conditioned as journalists not to tell our own stories. We shouldn’t be telling our own stories in certain instances for sure. But actually being able to have conversations about what’s impacted us can be really helpful, and hearing stories of others can be really helpful.

I thought, what if we had more of an open conversation about what mental health is or what emotional well being is, and we bring people together to have conversations about what the news industry is like?

I kept bumping into this guy called John Crowley on panels about burnout and about wellbeing and it was always like, ‘What are we going to do?’ And then the conversation stopped there. And I thought, well, actually, I’m going to have to do something. I said to John, “I really want to set up this company.” So we founded the company and it went from there.

Mental health in the media

The industry itself is traditionally really macho, it’s really white cis male university educated, and with that, unfortunately, goes a type of belief that we shouldn’t speak our truth, we shouldn’t speak our vulnerabilities, that actually we have to have this really strong manner.

And actually, we’ve been conditioned to coping mechanisms that are maybe fun at the time, perhaps, but they’re not necessarily the healthiest. We see behaviour role-modelled by people in charge that doesn’t allow a space where people can share their experiences.

Headlines’ work

We’re trying to promote, encourage, improve, amplify conversations. And we’re doing it in three ways. We have these three Ts: talking, tips and training. Talking is through encouraging conversations and doing that predominantly through the podcast, where we find that we are inviting guests who are fairly high profile across the industry to speak about how they see mental health, how they cope, how they manage.

The Tips aspect is, we ran a set of workshops at the back end of last year, which was part of the conversation, but partly working with journalists across the UK media to think about practical tips that could help us to support our mental health. So we’re developing that into more specific practical tips now at the moment around managing our own mental health and supporting colleagues.

We are going to be developing training as well, for managers. We’re really conscious that a lot of the time when they have conversations I hear that managers are really struggling. Managers don’t know how to start a conversation with staff. They’re struggling themselves, they feel squeezed. And actually they want to have the confidence to be able to start those conversations because they recognise that if they can create the spaces where people feel heard, better listen to and they have the skills and tips to employ that then it can only be good for the industry.

Actions organisations can take

First of all, I think, listen. Create a space where you can listen. A lot of time I hear people say, nobody’s listening to me. We’re speaking now, three weeks into Ukraine, and people are exhausted. People are overworked, they’re feeling underpaid. They’re feeling burnt out.

Recognise journalists as the resource. Without journalists, you can’t do journalism, right? So if you work your journalists into the ground – and I’m hearing anecdotes of people saying, I’m going to have to leave the industry, because I just can’t do this anymore – these are your most precious resources. Don’t abuse them, don’t treat them badly, recognise they’ve been through difficult times, because this is cumulative.

We’ve been through two years of really difficult times due to the pandemic. And even before that, there was a lot of relentless news.

Actions for individuals

It’s really hard giving yourself permission, ultimately, it’s really hard to see. There are so many different ways of phrasing this, but one of the ones I like best is that when you’re flying somewhere and someone says, ‘Put on your own oxygen mask first’. That sense of, you have to do that, because you can’t help other people until you help yourself.

Another one I use is that in English, the two first letters of mental health are M. E.; me. So it’s about prioritising yourself. Recognising that and giving yourself permission, and then seeing where you can say no. It’s so hard to say no, sometimes, but giving us permission to say no can be the first step, I think, to really be able to do things effectively.

Main story:

The Times gained an average of 1,000 new digital subscribers a day during the first two weeks of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, one of its highest ever growth rates.

  • The slimmest of silver linings here, but The Times has reported that it received one of its highest growth rates in subs over the course of the first fortnight following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • According to Press Gazette: “Times head of digital Edward Roussel told Press Gazette that the rise came due to a mixture of people seeking out a trusted brand and the way the newsroom has innovated in response to covering the war.
  • Roussel said: “The trend that we’re seeing is that in moments of crisis, whether it’s the onset of coronavirus or Brexit, you see this shift towards trusted brands… The previous times when we’ve had that type of rate have been more connected with things like flash sales.”
  • He also said that the 24th of February was “the biggest day in Times Radio’s history” in terms of total listening hours online and via the app and smart speakers.
  • The Times surpassed 400,000 digital subscribers earlier this year after gaining 60,000 digital subscribers in 2021. It is now planning to expand its reach on social media by investing in staff and joining TikTok.
  • It invokes The Times’ hard and fast rule that ‘good journalism is worth paying for’ – and that a hard paywall is the only way to get people to pay for it.
  • We’ve also seen The FT drop its paywall as it did with its coronavirus coverage, a strategy of using those flashpoints as a channel to get people invested and engaged with its coverage above anyone else’s.
  • Meanwhile the BBC, in addition to launching its shortwave radio solution, has made a huge push to get its content available via Tor – which has seen a huge uptick in use in Russia. It’s a reminder that this is an information war as well.
  • Donate to aid journalists at the Kyiv Independent here.

News in brief:

  • Digiday spoke with The FT’s CCO Jon Slade to find out how the company hit its 1 million subscriber milestone, what insights he can share with other news organisations chasing reader revenue and how an app it’s launching in a few weeks could be a new entry point for potential subscribers — and how, in his words, a subscription business can “power” a publisher’s advertising business. This story highlighted a subtle shift in the way people are talking about their subscription businesses. Rather than it being all about how reader revenues are great it’s about how the data created as part of the subscription play can benefit advertising. This is beyond obvious on one level, but publishing’s ‘primary school football’ approach to innovation has seen most organisations focus on the reader aspect and not the data aspect.
  • Substack has launched a new reading app on iOS, which allows you to read everything you subscribe to in a dedicated place other than your inbox. The app has features that aren’t possible yet in email including background podcast listening, video embeds, and real-time comment threads. This in principle isn’t a bad idea, although co-founder Chris Best’s references to the halcyon days of Google Reader are a little nauseating. But the especially worrying part is that there’s a ‘Pause email notifications’ button, which at last reporting, was set to ‘On’ by default. There’s a practical element here, if you’re getting pieces via the Reader then you won’t want that duplicated in your inbox. But this has really worrying implications for audience relationships via the platform.
  • A group of around 50 independent media outlets in Australia are gearing up for a day-long ‘news strike’ in protest at being left out of the news media bargaining code. As the first anniversary of the code coming into effect approaches, a number of titles are accusing the tech giants and federal government of effectively cutting them out of the discussion around receiving direct payments from Google and Facebook for including them in search results. Nick Shelton, chief executive of Broadsheet Media said “The competitive implications are significant. These large publishers, who we compete with daily, now have an additional stream of revenue that we don’t have. As a result we are being outspent on talent, on marketing and on technology, and anything else required to run a top-tier publication.”

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