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Self-care mitigates the stress of advising and advocating


by Mark Dzula

Working as an adviser can be wonderful and rewarding, especially as you work with young journalists as they take risks, realize their potential and dig into work in the field. It can be gratifying to watch a team coalesce, support each other and develop a sense of efficacy.

At the same time, our work can also be isolating, overwhelming and stressful—especially as we advocate for students’ rights and navigate conflicts with stakeholders.

That’s also part of the gratifying work, though, right? Knowing that your work as an adviser has impact in and out of the newsroom lends one a sense of professional purpose. At the same time, acting as an adviser and advocating for young people can be emotionally taxing and at times overwhelming, especially if you come into conflict with stakeholders. This blog will discuss some possible stressors and also offer suggestions for self-care and self-preservation that may help stem fatigue and protect against burnout.

“We do not pursue publication periods during school breaks. Granted, this might not prepare future journalists for 24/7 news cycles, but I think investing in rest, health and efficiency will help my journalists (and myself) maintain stamina and protect against burnout. Photo by Startup Stock Photos on

“A few years ago, I worked with my journalists to investigate teens’ risk-contexts in online participation as we set about publishing our digital newspaper. We found that we incurred different levels of risk: some positive and some negative. Positive risks centered on exceeding comfort zones, skill-building, and community involvement. Negative risks included vulnerability to online attacks, censorship/self-censorship, and an overwhelming amount of work.

Three suggestions to handle risk-taking

To protect against these negative risks and to encourage the positive ones, we made three suggestions. First, publications should invest in their procedures, policies and reputations. Having a clear set of ethical “plays” and a pragmatic staff manual will help editors and staff writers work with confidence and feel on terra firma if they begin to take heat or receive blowback.

Next, advisers and editors should work to manage the boundaries of newsgathering by honoring class-time as much as possible and regulating the amount of out-of-class work—keeping it to as much of a manageable level as possible.

Finally, all participants/stakeholders should recognize the mutuality of impact the newsroom and its public incurs and should strive to develop relationships based on clarity: clarity of role, power dynamics, as well as shared values.

But even when publications invest in reputation, time management and reciprocal relationships, newsrooms are not neutral and increasingly find themselves mitigating impact, fighting against censorship and advocating for student journalists’ rights. As an adult, employee and educator this can be stressful.

Strategies to help deal with stress

Personally, I have found a few strategies to be useful as I deal with the stress that comes with the job, including: classroom rituals, investing in work/life boundaries, building working relationships, and therapy.

Classroom rituals are easy and fun. They are a standard part of any classroom management strategy and help to set tone and expectations in low-stakes ways that help build culture and emphasize values. Our journalism class meets twice a week, except on special weeks when our block is the first block on Monday; then we meet three times a week. On these special occasions, for this first block, we meet in the dining hall and take 15 to 20 minutes to “mix it up” and socialize with the journalism team. This helps overcome cliques and friend groups, and it helps to get the team used to each other as they prepare to collaborate.

We also give out Golden Editor awards to recognize excellence in publication cycles. Head editors will acknowledge great work and recipients will reflect and describe how they accomplished their feat. While this is also simple, it helps to instill pride, especially as students incur new and potentially daunting risks. It also builds team pride and helps mitigate impact when we receive “fan mail.” I like this ritual, because it is a simple way to emphasize the student-centered nature of the newsroom and creates a new lane for feedback and celebration. Rituals can be weird, purposeful, and effective in the face of uncertainty or stress.

Setting healthy limits on newsroom work and setting clear guidelines for healthy communication can help journalists and adult stakeholders demonstrate respect for each other’s growth and recuperation. I try not to release grades late at night. I try to keep edits and processes to the workday, on weekdays. We do not pursue publication periods during school breaks. Granted, this might not prepare future journalists for 24/7 news cycles, but I think investing in rest, health and efficiency will help my journalists (and myself) maintain stamina and protect against burnout.

It is easy to feel isolated, but I find when I come into conflict, I have a set of professional friends and relationships that help me to vent, share problems, and seek support or advice. Stress can exponentially build when you churn inward. Having a professional connection and knowing you have support may help you mitigate stress. The JEA’s SPRC has a Panic Button that you can consult and get good advice from seasoned professionals.

Finally, I have found therapy personally and professionally helpful. It gives me an outlet when I find conflict in my life and it helps me develop useful and personalized strategies to keep perspective, manage feelings and prepare to do my best professional work. I have found therapy very useful to name and work with feelings, to seek avenues towards using a growth mindset, and for dealing with setbacks when they inevitably occur.

My goal is to stay in the game as long as possible, to deliver on the promise of journalism education, and to successfully advocate for my students in the face of adversity. Advising is challenging, and by taking care of myself I hope to stay in the game and manage meaningful educational experiences for young journalists as they step out, take risks and act in the world.