“What’s the worst emotion you’ve ever felt while doing your job?”
More than a year ago, I set out to research the community of people who do social media and community engagement work in newsrooms. Dozens of interviews and conversations later, my final report is out and I’m excited to talk about what I’ve learned.
The most awkward question I asked in every interview was also my favorite, because it really helped me understand the people behind these roles, not just the tasks they perform. “What’s the worst emotion you’ve ever felt while doing your job?” is not the same as “What’s your least favorite part of your job?” It’s an acknowledgement of where we feel vulnerable, how attached we are to our work and our communities.
By far, the most common answer social media editors gave to the “worst emotion” question had to do with fear. Fear of missing a news story, fear of sharing news that turns out to be wrong, fear of the social media accounts getting hacked, fear that you’ve really fucked something up.
The second most common refrain was about exhaustion: Feeling like you could never disconnect, never put down the phone, never stop checking email. A professional version of FOMO. And then feeling exhausted by all the bad news in the world, all the horrible images scrolling by. Feeling overwhelmed by the negativity and constant challenges of moderating a commenting community. Tired of trying to change the culture in a newsroom that feels like it takes one step forward and two steps back.
These are real issues for real people. These issues don’t just affect social journalists, of course; many other journalists and professionals outside journalism also experience these feelings, but that doesn’t make it any less of an issue for these people. I’m glad there are smart people out there trying to find solutions.
After bringing my interviewee way down with the “worst emotion” question, I tried to pick them back up a little talking about their favorite parts of their job, and the best day they’ve ever had at work.
Many social journalists’ favorite days at work involved tragedy: Wildfires, shootings, bombings, etc.
Why? Because those were the days you knew your work mattered. Those were the days these social journalists could see and feel how much they were helping the communities they intend to serve every day. As social journalists, they were able to facilitate the exchange of information in two directions: From the people on the ground to the newsroom, and from the newsroom back to people on the ground.
Even for the journalists who had more ordinary or even good-news best days at work, the common thread was about receiving positive feedback—either from the community you’re serving or from your colleagues. All this leads to a sense of pride about the kind of work you’re doing and a reminder about who you’re doing it for.
My full report was published by the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism, and can be found here: http://towknight.org/research/social-journalism-who-what-when-how/
Or, jump directly to a specific section:
- Executive summary
- What is social journalism?
- Who are social journalists in today’s newsrooms?
- What does being a social journalist require?
- Examples of effective social journalism
- Where is the news industry headed, and the implication for democracy
If you have any questions about my report, or anything you’d like me to share from the cutting room floor, I’m all ears and eager to talk about a topic I poured a year of my life into researching.
For more of my research and takeaways from my time in CUNY’s social journalism master’s program: