Journalism

UofSC’s ‘Daily Gamecock’ to Go Dark for Mental Health Break

123RF

My alma mater announced this week its student-run ‘Daily Gamecock’ will ‘go dark’ briefly to help students cope with 2020’s mental stress.

“Why we’re going dark.” That’s the title of an editorial The Daily Gamecock published on Sunday to explain why they won’t be publishing for a week.

The editorial explains the team promised to prioritize mental health, not only in coverage but in their own newsroom. It then lists reasons 2020 has been stressful, as if anyone needs any more reasons to explain that.

Among the stressors for the team:

The days have become a structureless blur of breaking news, online meetings, quarantines and, of course, our usual course loads. We aimed to maintain regular levels of production and modified new staff recruitment and training to continue to grow our organization. With the recent shift to fully online reporting, we’ve had to adapt to new forms of communication and restructure procedure and content expectations.  

So have the rest of us.

We’ve all had this stress. We’ve all had to adjust our internal clocks, our workflows and our methods of communications.

Somehow, 2019 feels far more than almost 11 months ago. It feels like it was about seven or eight years ago. And it feels like 2021 might take another year and a half to arrive.

I’m still trying to decide how I feel about this decision.

I certainly agree that mental health is important. They feel they need a break. A break may be exactly what they need.

But when they return, they face the exact same challenges. I recently took a week off to make a move into a new home. I was just as stressed when I got back to work the following week as I was the week before I stepped away.

Maybe it’ll be different for them. I hope, for their sakes, it will be.

Despite its name, The Daily Gamecock is a weekly paper. But it produces content daily on its website. (The name comes from the fact that it used to be a daily paper years ago.) The daily web content is also pausing during the break.

So you can’t fairly say they only have the output of a weekly news organization. You can, however, say that in the “real world,” the stressors are even bigger for those of us whose product goes out on a daily — and at times, hourly — basis.

The ‘real world’ argument becomes important

People who work in the journalism field tend to look at listing school media like college newspapers and television with a suspicious eye. While student journalism has certainly gotten closer to the real world, in many cases, it doesn’t seem to have reached that point yet.

One of the silliest arguments I heard in full support of The Daily Gamecock “going dark” is the suggestion that “real world” businesses offer employees paid time off. Real world employees get sick time and vacation time.

Of course they do. But media outlets in the real world don’t grant their entire staff PTO at the same time. Before I could take that one week off, I had to make sure we were staffed. If we hadn’t been, I wouldn’t have been off.

Another argument for this move lamented the fact that journalism is the kind of job that involves such crazy work hours that it makes finding a second (or third) job to make ends meet nearly impossible.

Yes. That’s true.

That’s the real world.

When I was a journalism student many, many moons ago, it was hammered into us that you go into journalism because you have a passion for it, not because you want to make a lot of money.

And that, my friends, is about as “real world” as it gets.

“We haven’t been sleeping. We’ve forgotten to eat. We’ve been staring at screens for hours on end,” the editorial continues. “Our negligence of our mental health has started to impact our physical health, and it’s also affected our ability to produce the highest-quality content possible. There was a tension in the newsroom, a feeling that everyone was close to their breaking point.”

I don’t mean to sound harsh.

I feel for these students. And of course, I realize they’re having to juggle their passion with their schoolwork and the rest of whatever’s going on in their lives.

I’m glad they have the opportunity to take this kind of break. But journalism — whether you agree or not — is a vital part of a democracy. It’s not something that should ever be put on hold.

But I hope they consider that this is not the real world. It’s not an option they’re going to have as a group when they’re out of school. Whether they stay in journalism or end up in a different field, I’m afraid they still won’t have a temporary group sabbatical as an option.

I hope, while they decompress, they keep that in mind. I hope they appreciate having that option to decompress and that they make the most of it.

But I also hope they don’t lose sight of the fact that once they’re in the real world, they’ll have to find other ways to decompress and cope with what’s happening.

Maybe this will give them time to reflect on that.

Loading spinner
Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.