Workplace Wellbeing

Behind the Headlines: Addressing the Mental Wellbeing of Its Journalists—Hearst Newspapers' Transformative Experience with Spring Health

This Mental Health Awareness Month, we're celebrating the courageous journalists who bring critical stories to our attention—because their story matters, too.

Written by
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Bianca Elliott
Clinically reviewed by
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    Carlos Gonzalez has been a photographer with the San Francisco Chronicle since 1997 and has shared that he carries the emotional burden involved with capturing powerful human moments. “You absorb it a little bit, and you do carry it with you quite a bit,” he explained.
    His goal in photography is to evoke the emotions he feels in the viewer — a poignant reminder of the deeply personal connection journalists often have with their stories. “If I'm feeling something, I want to try and convey that feeling through the photo to the reader. I'm looking for that emotional response from myself to take that picture.”

    By immersing himself deeply in his work, it’s nearly impossible not to be emotionally impacted. “You also retain some of the anguish, fear and sorrow that you feel in every one of those moments,” he said. “And it's not like you can just go home and wash it all off. The grief and the pain seen on people's faces will never go away.”

    The stories of journalists matter, too

    In the news industry, reporters are often intimate witnesses to the full spectrum of human emotion, and the toll on those who relay these stories can be profound. "Media is very different from any other industry I've worked in,” said Renee Peterson, senior vice president of human resources at Hearst Newspapers. “The journalists are on the frontlines every day, covering the breaking news stories, wildfires, riots and what's happening in the city of San Francisco, for example." 

    According to research from the DART Center for Journalism & Trauma, between 80 and 100% of all journalists in the U.S. have been exposed to work-related traumatic events. 

    “These stories that you cover just stay with you forever,” said Jill Tucker, a journalist at the San Francisco Chronicle. “It sits there. It never leaves you, and for good and bad, you want to keep that stuff with you. You want to remember it. I would hate to forget these things.”

    The responsibility of breaking stories in a 24/7 news cycle can impact work/life balance, or lead to burnout and exhaustion. All these factors can affect the mental health of journalists on the frontlines of news coverage. This understanding has catalyzed a broader, industry-wide conversation about the necessity of comprehensive mental health support systems. 

    Against the backdrop of the pandemic, Hearst needed a mental health solution that would offer precise care as quickly as possible. The company chose Spring Health because of its personalized approach, evidence-based results and proven net-positive financial ROI.

    Hearst Newspapers’ goal was to provide its journalists with standard mental health coverage and a dedicated therapist who understood their unique situations and experiences.

    The cornerstone of this initiative was finding an in-house clinician highly trained in trauma and PTSD and licensed in both California and Texas. Spring Health found Mariah Winslow, whose expertise in trauma therapy brought a much-needed resource directly to journalists at the San Francisco Chronicle, Houston Chronicle, Plainview Herald, and San Antonio Express-News. 

    Not long after Mariah was hired, a Hearst colleague tweeted about their new in-house therapist, which led to coverage in Poynter applauding the dedicated mental health support of Hearst’s journalists.

    The emotional cost of the story

    Journalist Kevin Fagan has faced his share of challenging situations while reporting throughout his career at the San Francisco Chronicle. “It's there, and you have to process it continuously, or it'll eat you up,” he said. “Being a journalist is not for the faint of heart. Taking care of yourself is really crucial. There's a lot of sadness involved in it, and trauma. And you carry that through.”

    Having access to Hearst Newspapers’ in-house clinician — who is trained in trauma and PTSD — has helped Kevin process the mental and emotional challenges that he sees on the job.

    Hearst colleagues have celebrated Mariah as a catalyst for profound personal growth and healing. “In the last few months, I’ve made more progress and found more inner peace than I have with any therapist I’ve ever worked with,” shared one Hearst colleague.

    While many newsrooms temporarily engage therapists following major disasters or traumatic events, Hearst's decision to hire a dedicated on-site therapist helps demystify mental health issues and break the stigma around getting help. 

     “Mariah is leading me to be a happier, less stressful person with more purpose to improve my current emotional and physical well-being,” said another Hearst colleague.

    Mariah also influences broader discussions around mental health. In addition to offering one-on-one therapy, she conducts training sessions for HR staff and managers, equipping them with the skills to identify signs of distress among team members and respond appropriately and empathetically.

    Hearst is investing in positive mental health results

    Clinical assessments from Hearst Newspapers’ colleagues are showing clear ongoing improvements in their mental health, and the investment is also paying off for the company. The support they receive from Spring Health is grounded in clinically-validated solutions that emphasize both individual care and ROI for the larger organization. 

    Hearst colleagues begin their engagement with Spring Health by completing a 3–5-minute mental health assessment. They are then assigned a dedicated Care Navigator, who is a licensed clinician and helps guide them toward the care they need—whether that’s therapy, medication management, coaching or self-guided exercises. 

    For many journalists at Hearst Newspapers, the program also includes in-person sessions with Mariah. Regular re-assessments allow the care team to monitor progress and make adjustments to ensure the best possible outcomes. 

    The results speak volumes. To date:

    • 84% of Hearst colleagues enrolled in Spring Health have completed a clinical assessment
    • 65% of those enrolled have participated in at least one therapy session
    • 87% of colleagues enrolled who were struggling with depression saw improvements
    • 62% of those colleagues now report mild or no symptoms
    • For those struggling with anxiety, 83% enrolled saw improvements, with 58% now reporting mild or no symptoms

    From an organizational perspective, Hearst has witnessed a significant ROI. Introducing clinically-validated mental health support through Spring Health and an in-house clinician has not only fostered a healthier workplace, but also decreased overall healthcare spending. 

    For every dollar invested in mental health care, Hearst has seen substantial savings and productivity gains, including an average recovery of 140 productive hours per team member per year and a 75% reduction in turnover for those receiving care.

    “Spring Health has just been the perfect vendor,” said Maria Walsh, senior vice president and head of global benefits at Hearst. “What they’re doing is really different from other providers. We sometimes ask for very specific things, and they’ve always been supportive, always willing to hear us out and to partner with us.”

    The importance of supporting mental health for journalists 

    It’s clear that mental health care is not just a personal benefit; it’s a professional imperative for anyone working on the frontlines of reporting the news. 

    This Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s acknowledge and support the courageous journalists who bring critical stories to our attention. By investing in their mental health, we not only uplift the individuals behind the headlines, but also help shape a future where everyone’s mental health needs are met with personalized, accessible and effective solutions.

    Read this case study to learn more about how Spring Health is working for Hearst employees, helping the organization combat burnout, prioritize mental well-being and ensure a healthy work environment.

    About the Author
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    Bianca Elliott

    As a Reiki Master and holistic life coach, Bianca works with individuals to connect with their inner wisdom to reach optimal performance and wellbeing. She is a seasoned brand strategist who has been helping companies connect with their core essence and authentic narrative for over 16 years.

    About the clinical reviewer
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