“Outlets should care about the well-being of their writers.”
Personal essays or personal pieces of journalism often take an emotional toll on their writers.
These kinds of stories are common at The Pigeon, a donor-funded youth media publication that prioritizes stories from Black journalists, Indigenous journalists, journalists of colour, and LGBTQ+ journalists. This past year their editors and writers have published stories like “‘My veil is a magnet for hate:’ a young Muslim’s journey wearing hijab and facing Islamophobia,” “My family spent 11 days being bombed by Israel. Oceans away, I feel frightened, yet hopeful,” and “Lessons from Angkong: Learning from my family’s press freedom battles.”
But what makes The Pigeon unique is that it offers trauma-informed pay for these types of pieces.
The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at the Columbia School of Journalism says the majority of journalists will witness traumatic events in their line of work — and the invisible wounds cut deep. There is an expectation that journalists should be mentally resilient, but the job leaves many feeling overwhelmed. Journalists are also not immune to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse. Journalists’ PTSD rates range from four to 59 per cent depending on their beats and location.
Tegwyn Hughes, managing editor at The Pigeon, says offering trauma-informed pay is a necessary step towards equitable reporting for independent news organizations. “Outlets should care about the well-being of their writers,” Hughes says.
Founded over a year ago, the Pigeon is a media platform for early-career writers. Most of them work on a volunteer basis, but for trauma-informed pieces, they offer between $100 to $300, depending on how many donations they receive to fund them.
The Pigeon’s trauma-informed pay comes from Patreon. Their flexible funding model allows members to decide the amount they would like to contribute each month. (Eventually the outlet plans on paying all writers as they secure funding.)
The “why” and the “how” of trauma-informed reporting go hand in hand, according to Hughes.
When it comes to stories about equity, she says, offering trauma compensation for journalists is non-negotiable. Some stories can be emotionally taxing for marginalized writers, and Hughes believes offering compensation for their trauma shows the writer that they are worth more than a headline for the publication.
But trauma-informed reporting goes beyond payment. Hughes often scouts Twitter for marginalized writers looking for work, or posts call-outs offering compensation for stories on particularly difficult topics. She says that media outlets need to put in the work to ensure their reporting is trauma-informed for the sake of their journalists and their readership.
Research suggests that more organizational support — like trauma-informed pay or connectedness to social networks within and outside of an organization — may result in a reduction of mental health harm and occupational dysfunction, and an increase in job performance and work satisfaction.
The Pigeon is not the first indie outlet to offer trauma compensation. IndigiNews makes space for its reporters to practice trauma-informed journalism and strengthen community relationships through their 10 intentions, and has developed a guide on Indigenous trauma-informed reporting. The Canadian Journalism Forum is also promoting trauma-informed reporting through its upcoming survey, Taking Care, on mental health, well-being and trauma in Canadian journalism. The results of the survey will be released in spring 2022 with the intention of helping stakeholders such as newsrooms, industry associations and journalism schools in the industry better support journalists.
Journalism is emotionally taxing and requires proper self-care. The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at the Columbia School of Journalism outlines self-care tips journalists can use before a potentially traumatic experience on the job.
Hughes hopes more outlets will soon follow their lead. But the work does not end there. “I always ask myself, how can I make everything more equitable? I’m seeing a gap in coverage, especially when it comes to the voices who often aren’t represented or checked in on, in times of a big discussion. It’s time to change that,” Hughes says.
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I really loved reading the reasons all these outlets had for joining the Local Media Association Lab.