Key quotes: Self-care on the frontline with Elaine Monaghan

byJennifer Dorroh
Apr 15, 2020 in COVID-19 Reporting
Newspaper, notepad, coffee and phone

In partnership with our parent organization, the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), IJNet is connecting journalists with health experts and newsroom leaders through a webinar series on COVID-19. The series is part of the ICFJ Global Health Crisis Reporting Forum.

This article is part of our online coverage of reporting on COVID-19. To see more resources, click here

In this unprecedented time, taking care of your well-being isn’t selfish -- it’s essential, said veteran reporter and journalism educator Elaine Monaghan during a webinar Tuesday with Patrick Butler, ICFJ’s Vice President of Content and Community, as part of ICFJ’s Global Health Crisis Reporting Forum.

“Journalists are themselves undergoing the same sort of threat to their own bodies and loved ones as everyone else,” Monaghan said. “This makes the need to practice care for yourself and your sources perhaps more present and more clear than it has ever been.”

Here are key quotes from the conversation: 

On how newsroom managers can help their employees:

Monaghan: “Lead by example. And that means not sacrificing your mental and physical health for the story, so that people who are more junior than you and the hierarchy themselves understand that they must not either.”

“To provide support and help, check in with people who report to you regularly and ask them, ‘Are you okay?” And if the answer is ‘no,’ help guide them to resources that can help them. And I really think that, at a time like this, providing access to talk therapy and other kinds of support mechanisms is incredibly important.”

“Think carefully about people…. Ask the question, ‘is this a person who is likely to face racism or, you know, stigmatization when they're covering the story? This doesn't mean you should just have a blanket ban on sending people out who might face those kinds of difficulties. You just have to be aware of them and think about ways to help support those people when they're going out into the world and to cover stories.”

[Read more: Mental and physical health of reporters during COVID-19]

On the importance of self care, even for reporters on deadline: 

Monaghan: “It’s easy to forget that you’re not just a journalist. You’re also a human being, and perhaps your most important obligation is to yourself…. You can’t tell stories or do your job if you’re not ok.”

On how reporters should make sure to care for themselves: 

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Drink enough water.
  • Take breaks, even for five minutes.
  • Find chances to break away from the story you’re covering.
  • Depending on your circumstances, find chances to go outside, get some fresh air and take a walk.
  • Disengage from the news and do something that makes you feel good, allows you to smile and have a lighter moment.
  • Make appointments—and stick to them—to talk to your friends and your colleagues.
  • Ask for help when you need it.

[Read more: Key quotes on the origin of COVID-19 and self-protection measures]

On how far journalists should go to cover the pandemic:

Monaghan: “I think the most important question to ask is, ‘Do I need to tell this story in person?’ And if the answer is ‘yes,’ then you have to start looking at safety measures...And then, of course, we're talking about a spectrum of risk that might start with something like, ‘Okay, I can go to a parking lot and take a photograph from a distance.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists has “detailed guidance on how to look after yourself and keep yourself safe, as well as instructions on cleaning your equipment so that you're not inadvertently bringing home something that might make you sick or might make someone else sick or might meet the next person who uses it.”

“You have to ask yourself, how are you going to live with yourself later if you realize that you took a risk, not just for yourself, but for those around you?” she said.

“There are lots of ways to conduct interviews using technology. My students are conducting interviews over the phone and by email. And you can record interviews and you can have video and audio. Yes, it's imperfect. But, you know, we're watching the news now and it's all happening remotely.”

Key resources mentioned in this webinar:


The Global Health Crisis Reporting Forum from ICFJ and IJNet connects journalists covering the novel coronavirus pandemic with leading health experts, resources and each other. Learn more and join the Forum through its Facebook group. Journalists can use these insights and quotes in their stories.

Main image CC-licensed by Unsplash via Markus Spiske