A man works at his desk on a computer during the pandemic.
Lincoln Journal Star Editor David Bundy recalls the stress of working through the pandemic and how in the newsroom, one traumatic situation is all it takes for needing mental health resources. Photo courtesy of David Bundy

Nebraska newsrooms are stepping up to address the mental health needs of their employees in various ways, as the unpredictability of reporting news can negatively impact mental well-being. According to the Nebraska Public Media, mental health care providers are in short supply in rural areas of the state.

Employees from smaller newsrooms in Nebraska, such as Norfolk, York, and Sweet Tea Media group, said they have implemented a sense of community to support mental health. 

Sweet Tea Media LLC is a Nebraska Limited Liability Company that owns the Seward County Independent, Milford Times, The Crete News, The Friend Sentinel and The Wilber Republican with 12 employees in their newsroom. The Norfolk Daily News is independently run and also has 12 employees. York News-Times in York has six staff members. These newsrooms have a much smaller staff and circulation than newsrooms like the Lincoln Journal Star and the Omaha World-Herald. 

At the Norfolk Daily News, Austin Svehla, who works as the cops and courts reporter, said communication is key. The employees, reporters and news staff meet daily to check in with each other and discuss upcoming news. Their publisher checks in on them quarterly to tell them they are doing a good job, which keeps morale up. 

“Obviously that’s not very often but he likes to have plant-wide meetings as just kind of a reminder, you guys are doing a great job,” Svehla said. 

At the York News-Times, Melanie Wilkinson, managing editor, said it’s simple but important to talk to each other in a very small group. With desks that are only a couple feet apart, they are always interacting with each other.

“It’s just being friends, co-workers and a support system within our own little hub here,” Wilkinson said. 

Amy Hausman, editor for Sweet Tea Media, said they try to assign work based on people’s strengths and they are close enough in the newsrooms to cover other assignments if someone feels they cannot take it on due to mental health. 

Since Hausman is the editor for five newspapers, she travels throughout the week. She goes to Seward on Mondays and Tuesdays to cover Seward and Milford and then the rest of the week she’s in Saline County. 

On Feb. 10, Hausman lost her home due to a house fire. During the fire, she was photographing a basketball game, and materials she needed for work, such as her laptop, notes and information from sources, were lost. 

She spoke about how her publisher was supportive after the fire. The next day, he had a laptop on order for her. He encouraged her to take the time she needed and ensure she takes care of herself. 

“I cannot tell you how lucky I am to work where I do,” Hausman said. 

Larger newsrooms like the Lincoln Journal Star have more employees and resources available to prioritize mental health. 

David Bundy, LJS editor, has worked there for 11 years. He has not noticed any unmet needs in the newsroom at the moment but recalled back to some more challenging moments in 2020. 

During the summer, several Black Lives Matter protests took place in Lincoln. Bundy said one of their reporters was in the middle of the crowd and got caught in a pepper gas attack.

Journal Star photographers were also trapped in the crowd in between people and law enforcement. 

In the following year, LJS moved its offices to a new building, but for around 6-8 months, they were working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Bundy said they make sure employees are aware of the resources that are available even if they don’t need them at the moment. 

“Mental health is health,” Bundy said. 

York News-Times, LJS, and Sweet Tea Media all have mental health services provided by their companies. 

York News-Times and LJS are owned by Lee Enterprises. At York, their company offers them services where employees can call to get the help they need. The newsroom also does mandatory online mental health training once a year. 

Lincoln Journal Star also has periodic training for itsnewsroom on mental health awareness issues. The company has an assistance program that can pair a person with a trained professional such as a counselor, psychiatrist or psychologist.

Bundy said these resources are not just for professional issues and they can be used for personal matters. 

Sweet Tea Media provides all full-time employees with health coverage, which includes mental health options such as 24-hour counseling resources. 

Norfolk News is independently run by Huse Publishing. While they don’t currently have any specific mental health resources, Svehla said that he thinks the newsroom would be receptive to adding some if needed. 

With ever-changing news, these four newsrooms have gone through different experiences and have adapted ways to foster a healthy environment and provide for their employees when they need support. Staying aware of the resources and support around them, helps these newsrooms afloat. 

 “You’re one traumatic situation away from really needing those resources,” Bundy said. 

Alyssa Onnen is a senior at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln studying journalism and advertising & public relations. She has minors in criminology & criminal justice, psychology, and communication studies. She plans to graduate in May of 2023.