Newsroom managers slow to acknowledge stress injuries

Operational stress injuries in journalists can be successfully treated — and the earlier it’s dealt with the better. That was the most important take-away for me from this year’s Journalism and Risk workshop, offered by the Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma at Western University on Saturday.

Organized by veteran journalists Cliff Lonsdale and Jane Hawkes, the annual workshop this year featured CBC Radio’s Rick MacInnes-Rae, London Health Sciences Centre’s Karen Pierre, London Free Press reporter Joe Belanger, and Canadian Press reporter Colin Perkel as panellists. Through video presentations and panel discussions, the workshop intends to prepare young journalists for the risks they’ll face — domestically and internationally — in the pursuit of their vocation. See my Twitter feed for a running summary (look for Nov. 10) of the day’s proceedings.

I was especially struck by two assertions by the panellists. First, it was Pierre’s view that stress injuries in journalists can nearly always be successfully treated, especially if they’re identified early on. Second, it was Belanger’s contention that newsroom managers generally don’t recognize stress injuries in their staff until they become very serious.

As a former newsroom manager, I can attest to the latter. Newsroom culture is not unlike the macho culture that pervades workers in emergency services such as police, fire and paramedical services — we compartmentalize the stress and shock, put it on a shelf, do our work and then go home. Too few newsroom managers appreciate the number of walking wounded within their organizations — and are too slow to recognize injury. Far too often, journalists are left untreated altogether and their efforts to cope with their accumulated injuries relegate them to sideline status. Some are demoted or transferred to other duties; others are forcibly retired or bought out.

It is incumbent on newsroom managers to deal with the injuries and stresses of their staff in a timely manner. In fact, a training module for newsroom managers, created by the Forum or some other organization, would be useful tool in many Canadian newsrooms.

Another memorable moment from this year’s workshop: Perkel’s very personal account of the final hours of the life of Calgary Herald reporter Michelle Lang, who died covering the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. It was incredibly moving. A previous post on Lang’s death is here.

Panellists Rick MacInnes-Rae, Karen Pierre, Joe Belanger and Colin Perkel participated in Saturday’s Journalists & Risk workshop.

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