I loved everything about my job as a social media manager at a local television news station — the nonstop pace, the people, the behind-the-scenes activity. But the one problem I had with working in news was…the news. That’s kind of a big problem.
I don’t have a journalism background — I have English degrees — but I quickly found a calling for storytelling when I started at WBTV News. Of course I knew I loved social media, but now I had access to unlimited content to use for social storytelling. I was in heaven. Pinch me. This was it. I had somehow landed my dream job. I kept waiting for someone to tell me it was all a joke.
My manager who hired me in 2014 warned me during the interview process that I would be dealing with tough content on a daily basis. He asked if I’d be okay with that. I told him I could handle it. I had been a broadcast news consumer for years and I was familiar with all the horrible things I would be exposed to. It was fine. I’d be fine.
I was not fine. I really don’t know what I was thinking. In my head, I knew that news content was tough. I guess I just hadn’t conceptualized how deeply involved I would be with that content.
My first daughter was a six-month-old baby when I was hired. I was dealing with mild postpartum depression. None of this helped my cause.
News is tragedy after tragedy. If I had to put it into percentages, my day was 80 percent horrible things, 10 percent lightheartedness (chatting with co-workers, Good News, etc.) and 10 percent random admin stuff.
Eighty percent will wear on you quickly. Doing social media for news is so fast-paced that you’re simultaneously screenshotting the live feed from the helicopter of a drowning, making sure to avoid capturing the body or the sheet covering the body, tweeting info and pictures, waiting for confirmation, listening to scanner traffic, communicating updates to others in the newsroom, trying to beat other stations with your updates, and before you know it, you’ve been deep into the details of a horrible tragedy for an extended period of time without the chance to process any of it.
On social media, I posted about homicides while witnessing family members finding out and consoling each other from our live feed, I posted about fatal highway accidents knowing those involved weren’t ever making it home, and I posted about the search for missing children hoping it wouldn’t end horribly.
Tragedies involving kids were especially traumatizing to me. I always say that having kids cracked my heart open. I considered myself pretty “hard” before my little ones came along, but now I tear up at a Johnson & Johnson soap commercial.
So imagine how my days were with sad news involving children. Is my baby okay at daycare? Did a drive-by shooting happen near her school ending in a bullet piercing multiple walls and hitting her while she slept in her crib?
Extreme made-up scenarios would pop up and play out in my head. As the months went on, this would happen more and more often. They were inspired by stories I would help cover at work. They would go to a dark place quickly. I couldn’t turn them off.
Rationally, I knew that what made headlines was not normal life; it’s not most people’s normal experiences. But when you’re constantly dealing with happenings that aren’t normal, they become normal to you.
My dream job became my worst nightmare.
I went to therapy. And I realized that my best option was to leave an industry that I loved. I remember the day I had a heart-to-heart discussion with a coworker and disclosed that I was getting counseling to deal with work. She admitted that she saw a therapist too. I felt so relieved knowing I wasn’t the only one.
I left WBTV in September 2016.
I made many friends at WBTV and I love and have so much respect for them all. I learned a lot during my news experience. People in broadcast news provide a public service and do so graciously even when dealing with tough content and constant public scrutiny. In addition, I learned to never be ashamed to tell people you need help.
Now, I manage social media for Carolinas HealthCare System. I post about how we helped Hurricane Harvey victims, how a former NFL coach is doing one year following his heart transplant, and how one of our doctors helped save a paralyzed man and will run a half marathon with him. I get the satisfaction of sharing the positive stories on the other side of tragedies and I leave work each day feeling uplifted.
Photo: Katie McKiever