Burnt-out Mainstream Journalist Looks to Shake Up Profession

Burnt-out Mainstream Journalist Looks to Shake Up Profession

Cathrine Gyldensted asks how could positive psychology change news field

She was just tired, Cathrine Gyldensted remembers, echoes of the weariness still straining her voice. Partly it was from long, long hours of investigative reporting and the mental weight of dealing with a mother sick with cancer. But there was something deeper and darker gnawing the very life from her soul.

A journalist in TV and radio news coverage and investigative reporting for the Danish Broadcasting Corporation at the time, the Danish resident describes the moment in November 2004 the darkness inside became visible.

Cathrine Gyldensted

“One morning I went to work. We had our usual editorial meeting. I went to my cubicle. I just broke down in front the screen because I just couldn’t see myself going through the day. I didn’t want to cope anymore. I didn’t want to do anything. I was just worn out.”

At her editor’s urging, Cathrine took the train from Copenhagen to her mother’s home in Slagelse, a small town about an hour’s drive from the capital.

Sitting on the couch, helpless, a glassy look of nothingness in her eyes, the accomplished reporter and family caretaker showed she needed help.

That began a two-month stress leave. Two months of scrabbling at the walls of the dark hole she had fallen into, going for long walks, sleeping for hours and hours — and thinking. Thinking, thinking, thinking.

The biggest question was around the value of the work she was doing, whether or not she was really contributing the way she had always wanted to when she signed up to be a journalist.

“I was asking myself, did I do anything good, or did I just introduce more negativity into the world,” says Cathrine.

She remembers looking around, reflecting back on her work and workplace environment and seeing it all as she had never quite seen it before — so full of darkness.

She remembers the way she and her colleagues spoke to one another, mostly with that bit of an edge to their conversations, the subtle, cutting tone, likely, she thinks now, inspired by a belief that this approach underscored their ability as good, analytical, critical reporters.

Cathrine leaving the White House with partner Torsten Stanson after interviewing chief of staff  Josh Bolten for their book Obama City.

And then there was the content of her investigation, all negatively balanced, mostly honing in on the weakness, the mistake, the hidden agenda, the dark side.

“For a while I considered doing something completely different,” Cathrine tells Axiom News in a telephone interview now several years later.

“Maybe aerobics instructing.

“I had many many many doubts about whether to be in journalism.”

In fact, it wasn’t until she moved to Washington, D.C. in 2007, three years after this time, and was asked to be a correspondent again that she resumed investigative and hard news reporting.

But it could never be the same-old, same-old for her again.

First, in completing a masters in positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, she decided the tackle the subject of negativity in journalism for her capstone project. The theme? Innovating news journalism through positive psychology, a recent branch of psychology emphasizing the importance of using the scientific method to determine how things go right.

From her own experiences, and supported by the findings of that research, Cathrine, now back in Denmark again, is launching a start-up news company anchored in positive psychology.

She is also influencing decision makers at her other workplace as anchor of a national foreign affairs radio show, The Globe, to consider tipping the negative to positive ratio in news coverage.

And she is looking to bring the approach to local journalism schools, noting there is interest but nothing formalized yet.

Asked how she’s feeling now, considering where she’s come from and the place she’s at today, Cathrine says she often wakes up feeling elated and determined.

“I have a new outlook on news and the field, a new optimism and sense of how to drive and implement this change intelligently. Positive psychology is a compass and provides a platform for fact-based innovation here.”

To be completely honest, there are some mornings it feels overwhelming, Cathrine admits, usually after she’s experienced push-back from her peers or simply in her realizing yet again how ignorant people are of the possibilities.

That’s when turning to those who support and energize her is critical, she says, as well as reminding herself of the emerging interest and work worldwide around this strengths-based news notion. Then she remembers, again, how alone she truly isn’t in this important work.

— More to come on study Cathrine undertook

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Michelle Strutzenberger

Michelle Strutzenberger aims to lift up the gifts and possibilities of community through her work as a Generative Journalist, connector and curator with Axiom News. She is also dedicated to finding ways to illuminate what the Axiom News team has learned, gathered and accomplished over the years. Michelle has more than 15 years of experience with Axiom News. She's  most grateful for the incredible people she's had the privilege of encountering through this work.

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