The University of South Carolina’s student newspaper, The Daily Gamecock, announced on Tuesday that it would be taking a two-week hiatus from publishing in an effort to prevent staff burnout and prioritize mental health. This decision comes amid a long semester of challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Not only is this decision an extremely difficult one, but it highlights the burden placed on student journalists during such unprecedented and chaotic times.
Student journalism is important and necessary. It builds a bridge between students and their communities. It fosters civic engagement. It keeps busy college students informed, and it can provide communication between students and the administration. Student journalists work hard to provide accurate information as soon as possible — on both print and digital platforms — and are constantly subjected to criticism and vitriol.
Being a student journalist is a delicate balance between academics and journalism — and this balance has been further complicated by academic anxiety, a semester without mental health breaks and the additional burdens of COVID-19. Feeling disconnected and working mostly online presents its own challenges, while students themselves are often juggling full-time coursework and jobs outside of the newsroom. Sacrifices have to be made, and sleeping, eating and general self-care are typically the first to go.
“There was a general understanding that we were not well and that there was nothing we could do about it,” The Daily Gamecock wrote. “We are choosing to disrupt that narrative.”
Nearly 31 percent of adults reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression at the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak in late June, and student journalists are no exception. UNC students, especially, have endured plenty of chaos this semester, as campus quickly became a COVID-19 hotspot and residence halls closed shortly after classes began.
The staff of The Daily Gamecock doesn't apologize for taking a break — and it shouldn’t. As student journalists, the work we do is important, but we can’t serve our community if we're not at our best. It’s easy to forget that we can (and should) exist outside of our roles as reporters and editors, that it is possible to wear all the hats a student journalist is asked to wear and still take the time to put ourselves first.
The Editorial Board applauds the staff of The Daily Gamecock for making the decision to put their mental health first. It breaks the rules of what we are taught as both students and journalists, rejecting the idea that we must keep going, no matter what. In both worlds, the thought of taking a break and reducing productivity can be anxiety-inducing, and we fear that responsibilities will only pile up as we fall behind.
For these reasons, it can be difficult to set boundaries between our work as student journalists and our overall well-being. The Daily Gamecock’s decision to take a break sets an important precedent for student journalists: it is OK to put your mental health first.