Lyn Barnes

Journalists and emotions: The theory of balance

The changing media landscape and the demand for news 24/7 can make some journalists vulnerable to stress, especially those who often cover trauma. Whether it is death knocks or covering courts, the repetitive nature of trauma work can affect their mental health. By carrying out 20 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with New Zealand journalists and media managers, and using grounded theory analysis to interpret the data, a theory of balance emerged. The theory provides a framework for understanding how journalists deal with trauma and the related emotions. It identified what can be a continuum for some journalists, from attaining balance to maintaining balance through to potentially losing balance. The model can be used as a teaching device for self-care and serve as a self-assessment tool for journalists covering trauma on a regular basis, to check their mental stability. The investigation identified two key hurdles: the traditional unspoken 'rules' in newsrooms and the tendency of journalists to adopt the bystander position, that is, a reluctance to acknowledge colleagues who may not be coping with their work. It also confirmed that editors might not be fully aware of the risks of trauma work.

Keywords: journalism, trauma, grounded theory, emotional labour, bystander effect, gender, mental health


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Note on the contributor

Dr Lyn Barnes is a senior lecturer in journalism at AUT University in Auckland, New Zealand. Her PhD focused on trauma journalism and everyday journalists. Her other areas of interest include magazine journalism and magazine history. She worked as a sub-editor, editor and writer on a number of magazines before joining academia. Before that she has worked for newspapers, radio, television news and current affairs in New Zealand and Australia.