Should Journalists Receive Awards for Covering Hard News? My Thought Is No; I’ll Tell You Why
The Way Journalists Are Rewarded Needs to Change
When I worked in news, one of the strangest things to me was that people sought out awards for their coverage on topics that were deeply sorrowful, traumatic, and disturbing. I think journalists should receive something else for their hard work, especially when it comes to covering challenging topics. Let me explain.
I don’t think it’s particularly appropriate that after a mass shooting at the end of that rope is someone getting dressed up to the nines, put in a room with fellow people who covered the same topic or similar topics, and given a lavish banquet dinner and the chance to get up before the audience to give an acceptance speech. Not all awards for journalists work this way but many do. I feel like we’re losing the plot on the real issue that took place that caused the news coverage in the first place, and instead, we’re patting the backs of people who have more comfortable and established lives.
I find this current way of honoring journalists tacky, narcissistic, and neurotic. At these ceremonies, people are given the chance to network with fellow journalists and talk about their work from collapsed buildings, missing children, sunken ships, and airplanes on fire. It makes the journalists come off as elitist, imperial even. There is so much opus put on their work to cover and observe these terrible topics that the actual reality of the events they covered gets lost.
Don’t get me wrong, it is challenging to cover hard crime and disasters, but these stories are about real people and many of them are left in a void to cope with the grief and seriousness of their misfortunes… some of those people will be dealing with the harrowing situation they endured for the rest of their lives.
It’s awkward when you go to a newsroom and find in a corner a golden award that has etched on it: “First place for superior coverage of the sailboat drowning that took 12 lives.” It’s even more awkward when people take pictures of that trophy and spread it on social media. You’re not absolved of doing something tacky just because it was an honor to receive a golden trophy. The way you present that golden trophy can be shockingly crude.
The award ceremony practice makes journalists turn into idol seekers, who by instinct know their coverage could get them the awards they desire to boost their portfolio and gain respect from their colleagues. Is there another industry where if you accurately depict a mangled stabbing victim that you could get an award? This doesn’t sit well with me. I find it convoluted.
How Can Journalists Be Honored Instead?
To be honest, an award doesn't really mean anything except for recognition among peers and industry folks. It would be far better if journalists who did a fantastic job on something and received widespread attention for it got promotions, raises, and better access to mental health care.
If you’re receiving an award in journalism, but you’re not seeing an uptick in how much you earn then something is wrong. People who are good at explaining some of the darkest events in our society should be compensated correctly, but instead, there is an award ceremony that’s all smoke and mirrors, where you may compete with other people in categories. How do you compare what a journalist did to accurately cover a drive-by shooting during a parade vs. someone who covered a jail uprising that resulted in multiple deaths? Should these two journalists really be set against each other for an award? It’s bad optics to me. It seems like a distraction from the real ways employees should be treated on a day-to-day basis.
Journalists don’t need cockfight-like environments that seem like glamour and glitz for a moment to speak before an audience. Any journalist who receives an award like this and doesn’t shed light on the terrible topic nor calls for work to be done in that area to prevent the tragedy from happening again is a self-interested journalist who is more interested in their career than the actual needs of the people they meet.
Perhaps it really did mean something to the journalist who won the award. It was a career highlight. You were finally given a chance to reflect on your work and be seen for it. However, the glow and good feelings of the moment will eventually die, and you’ll be left with a trophy as a bookend to keep your Agatha Christie novels in line. It’s an empty prize.
Give Them Better Pay
In an industry that’s anemic to paying workers what they really deserve, it seems like a slap in the face to have them act out the role of celebrities. They’re not celebrities; they’re workers in public service. This is why I argue they should be given promotions and raises, which do have a lasting effect because it increases their lifetime earnings. If we have to have a big song and dance to figure out who in newsrooms deserves to have a raise, then something is deeply wrong.
Journalists who are committed to bringing the public the most pressing and challenging news stories should also have easy access to mental health care. Therapy sessions should be a regular part of their lives. When you’re constantly meeting strangers at the worst moments of their lives and having to cover it, your mental health gets shaken. Mental health access and awareness is a woefully undeveloped aspect of the industry. People are working through long shifts not really processing their thoughts, emotions, and memories connected to the disturbing stories they covered. This doesn’t just have to do with reporters but also those who work inside the newsroom all day and have to meticulously go through each story deciding what will be the best way to cover it. Producers, editors, and directors are all getting exposed to upsetting content.
Not only that, but journalists have to deal with strict demands, an ever-changing environment, and disgruntled coworkers (and they’re disgruntled because they have a poor support system at work… it’s a vicious cycle). As giant news corporations buy up more local newsrooms, HR managers are turning into remote positions. HR managers that people can talk to in person are getting removed from buildings, so now the position is distant and arcane, coming from some faraway location in another city. HR managers are living in the ivory towers of corporate as if they’re kidnapped princesses and princes. What people are there to adequately protect and represent employees?
Journalists are losing ground for their sanity. There is a high turnover rate for multiple reasons: low pay, toxic work conditions, and very little if any real guidance with mental health.
So my suggestion for these award ceremonies is to melt down the trophies and stop the celebration events that can often come off as tacky and darkly competitive. Give journalists fair wages, increase access to therapy, and turn the awards into incentives to donate to causes. It would be better for journalists to receive awards where they can donate to the cause of their liking… a cause that’s related to the nefarious thing they covered. Receiving a trophy has little if any impact. We’re burning money to make trophies instead of putting money in the pockets of those who worked hard to inform the public. We could be putting money in the hands of the victims mentioned in the stories.
Celebrations Should Stop Until There Is Real Improvement in Journalists’ Working Conditions
The industry is a mess, and what I’m picking on is a needle in the haystack. It’s something I have randomly thought about since leaving journalism. I’m often grossed out when I think about the strangeness of these award ceremonies. The pomp and circumstance don’t sit well with me when I can also remember the journalists who were having breakdowns because of what they had to cover. I remember my pregnant co-workers who were up to their eyeballs in stress and crying as they pumped milk in an office closet. I remember the producers who took drugs to cope with their workload. I remember the screams of people who were laid off. Dressing up for awards isn’t what this group of workers needs.
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Originally published: https://medium.com/p/6669b9f6d766