Helping journalists cover mental illness

DownloadedThe morning that the booklet on which she and Cliff Lonsdale been been working was to be unveiled, Jane Hawkes allowed herself just a little satisfaction.

“After operating in a bubble for months, we really didn’t know if it would finally resonate — and [we’re] grateful that it seems to be,” she wrote in an email. “Interestingly, [there’s] just as much buzz outside Canada — [we’re] hearing from journos and mental health groups in Australia, Thailand, Israel, England, Ireland, U.S., Vietnam, Spain, Mexico, Kenya.”

The “buzz” is regarding Mindset: Reporting on Mental Health, a new resource by journalists for journalists, intended to improve the reporting of stories that touch on mental health issues. The slim 42-page field guide is available in booklet form or as a free download, in English or French, from the Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma.

At a reception ahead of Thursday night’s launch at the Glenn Gould Studio inside the CBC Broadcasting Centre in Toronto, Lonsdale credited CBC ombudsman Esther Enkin with an unrelenting drive to keep the guide short and practical.

That, it is. Through seven short chapters and a quick reference compendium that includes a best-practice checklist, interviewing dos and don’ts, and guidance on language in cases of suicide and addictions, Mindset should take its place alongside a reporter’s dictionaries, stylebooks and legal guides on desktops and in backpacks, rather than on the shelves of newsroom libraries or inside yellowing manila folders.

Mindset: Reporting on Mental Health is published by the Forum in association with CBC News, with partial funding from the Mental Health Commission of Canada. It’s a valuable resource for reporters who, in today’s newsrooms, are generalists far more often than they are specialists. And the dynamic website promises the guide will remain useful for years to come.

Below is the video, featuring Linden MacIntyre,  that led off the panel discussion at the booklet’s launch. The discussion, chaired by World Report host David Common, included Enkin, neuropsychiatrist Anthony Feinstein and André Picard, public health reporter at The Globe and Mail.



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.

The impact of social media on communication

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of serving as an interview subject for a short radio documentary by Conestoga College student Andrew Shepherd, produced in the studios of CJIQ-FM, the college’s radio station. Shepherd was interested in the exploring the impact social media are having on our society and the relationships we have with one another. He called his documentary “Transcending Maya.”

A bit of background on Shepherd: He was born and raised in Kitchener, Ont., and is in the second year of the Broadcast Radio program at the college. In high school, he took all academic/university level courses, thinking he was university bound. But his friends coaxed him into developing his broadcasting abilities.

“I didn’t always know that Broadcast Radio was the program I wanted to be in,” Shepherd says. “My friends told me I belong in radio, so I gave it a shot. I’m glad I did, because it’s the best experience I’ve ever had — and I’ve fallen in love with radio.”

In addition to his studies, Shepherd works part-time at 99.5 KFUN as one of the weekend newscasters. “And when the big guys take time off, I’m the man to fill in on the morning shows on both KFUN and 105.3 Kool FM,” he adds. “I’m currently working on getting an internship there for the summer.”

“News is my forte. I enjoy watching the world change in front of my eyes and reporting on it,” he says.

To listen to Shepherd’s documentary, click on the link below.

Transcending Maya

Reporting on journalists in harm’s way

There were a number of very interesting seminars and panel discussions at this year’s national conference of the Canadian Association of Journalists in Montreal in late May. Among conferees, the most popular panels were those on “Ottawa’s Information Lockdown and What Journalists Should Do About It” and “The Future of the Daily Newspaper.”

Equally interesting, however, was a discussion titled “In Harm’s Way,” moderated by Cliff Lonsdale, a professor at the University of Western Ontario’s graduate journalism program. The panelists were Rodney Pinder, director of the International News Safety Institute, based in Britain, Dr. Anthony Feinstein, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto and one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder on journalists, and Lorne Motley, editor-in-chief of the Calgary Herald.

The session was fascinating, given each of the unique perspectives present. Pinder argued forcefully for the need for journalists to report on the casualties among their own — something we’re often loath to do. More journalists die each year around the globe in the line of duty than do aid workers, he said, yet journalists do not often report on deaths or the threat of death within their ranks. Feinstein discussed the prevalence of PTSD among journalists who cover war and conflict, but also made the point that reporters who cover the police, crime and court beats over many years can also suffer from the disorder. Motley provided a glimpse into the emotional journey within his newspaper’s newsroom in the hours, days and months after Herald reporter Michelle Lang was killed in Afghanistan (see my previous post).

To promote awareness of these issues in Canada, Lonsdale and veteran journalist Jane Hawkes have co-founded the Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma, which “promotes the physical and emotional safety of journalists in Canada and abroad. We also address the impact of coverage on people caught up in violent and traumatic stories as well as the effects that covering violence and trauma may have on news consumers.”

One of the Forum’s goals is to make hazardous-environment training — the kind provided by large news organizations to their journalists ahead of risky assignments — more widely available to freelance journalists and others who may not be provided with such preparation. Though many Canadian journalists and their employers agree with that notion in principle, fundraising for it has been a challenge.

My own view is that Lonsdale, Hawkes and the rest of the board of the fledgling Forum are onto something here. As news organizations and their distribution platforms change, and as those companies divest themselves of full-time staff in favour of additional part-timers and stringers, the numbers of freelance and unilateral journalists are likely to swell. And the need for better preparation for dangerous situations will grow too.

New chief at The Globe’s Ottawa bureau

More changes at senior levels of The Globe and Mail. Ottawa bureau chief Brian Laghi is leaving Parliament Hill to tackle a new career, which he characterized to colleagues as a bid to satisfy a need for change as he turns 50. Sylvia Stead, who editor-in-chief John Stackhouse installed just weeks ago as his senior manager in charge of staffing and training, was at Laghi’s side this morning as he made the announcement to bureau staff.

Ottawa bureau chief-designate John Ibbitson
Ottawa bureau chief-designate John Ibbitson

Replacing Laghi in Ottawa will be columnist John Ibbitson, who former editor-in-chief Ed Greenspon sent packing to Washington several years ago, despite Ibbitson’s dazzling work in the nation’s capital, where he frequently set the agenda for Question Period with his incisive and provocative columns.

Ibbitson has done yoeman service in Washington, covering American politics through the second term of George W. Bush, an intense and scrappy primary process and the historic election and inauguration of Barack Obama. But his posting to the U.S. capital seemed, to me at least, never to have generated the buzz or impact of his earlier stint in Ottawa, where he was a daily must-read. His return there bodes well for national political journalism.

Here’s editor-in-chief John Stackhouse’s memo to staff today:

I am sorry to announce that Brian Laghi, our Ottawa bureau chief, is leaving The Globe and Mail next month to pursue a new career.

Brian was hired in Edmonton in 1995 where he was the Journal’s legislative bureau chief. He was The Globe’s reporter in Edmonton and the north, specializing in politics and the creation of Nunavut. His experience as one of the first journalists in the country to understand and appreciate the grassroots Reform movement served him well when he moved to Ottawa and shone as an expert in the conservative movement. Along with politics, he covered federal-provincial relations, immigration and other issues. He has been bureau chief since 2004, helping direct coverage of two elections, budgets and major assignments and explaining federal politics to our readers. He won a National Newspaper Award in 2002 as part of a team on bank mergers and was nominated with Jeffrey Simpson last year for their profile of Stephen Harper.

Brian will start a new job in September as director of communications and public affairs for the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.

At the same time,  I am delighted to announce that John Ibbitson will be the next Ottawa bureau chief. In this role, he will report to Sinclair Stewart, the new national editor.

For nearly two decades, John has been a front-row observer and writer of Canadian and U.S. politics. Along with his deep knowledge of politics and government, he will bring to his new role boundless energy and enthusiasm for our coverage of national affairs.

John started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen’s Park columnist, Ottawa political affairs correspondent and, since May 2007, our Washington correspondent and columnist. He’s also the author of the just-published Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper.

Born in the  Ontario town of Gravenhurst, John graduated from the University of Toronto in 1979 with an Honours B.A. in English and from the University of Western Ontario in 1988 with an M.A. in Journalism.

Before joining the Globe, John worked as a reporter, columnist and Queen’s Park correspondent for Southam papers. He’s also published three works of political analysis: Promised Land: Inside the Mike Harris Revolution; Loyal No More: Ontario’s Struggle for a Separate Destiny and The Polite Revolution: Perfecting the Canadian Dream. In his spare time, he writes plays and young-adult novels. His latest, The Landing, won the 2008 Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature. John’s writing has been nominated as well for the Donner Prize, the National Newspaper Award, the Trillium Award and the City of Toronto Book Award.

John and Brian will be in the bureau together for a formal handover early next month. Please join me in thanking Brian for his great contributions to the Globe, congratulating John on a brilliant run in Washington and wishing them both well in their new roles.

John Stackhouse

William Calley and the ghosts of My Lai

Lieutenant William Calley Jr. became of central figure of My Lai
Lieutenant William Calley Jr. became the central figure of the My Lai massacre

Anyone old enough to remember the Vietnam War will recall the infamous My Lai massacre. It was a seminal event in the history of that war because of its effect on public support for U.S. involvement there. Millions of Americans who, until My Lai, had supported or wavered in their support for the war turned against it — so stunned were they by the atrocities committed by American troops.

The destruction of the village and the massacre of its Vietnamese inhabitants occurred on March 16, 1968. Although the official U.S. tally puts number of dead at 347, other estimates of the death toll exceed 500. Most were women, children and elderly people. Many were raped, tortured and mutilated. The soldier in charge of the U.S. Army platoon that invaded the village was Lieutenant William Calley Jr.

The events of My Lai may have escaped media and public attention entirely if not for the fact that several U.S. soldiers were so shocked and disturbed by the conduct of their own troops that they wrote letters to President Richard Nixon, the joint chiefs of staff, officials at the Pentagon and others about the incident. The horrors of the My Lai massacre surfaced publicly more than a year later, when, despite official secrecy about the letters, independent investigative journalist Seymour Hersh broke the story on Nov. 12, 1969. In the months that followed, My Lai remained a major story in newspapers, radio and TV. Calley and more than two dozen of his men were charged, but only the lieutenant was eventually convicted. He was sentenced to life in prison, but served only three and a half years under house arrest in his quarters at Fort Benning, Ga.

Since then, Calley had remained silent about My Lai. Until yesterday.

At a Kiwanis Club in Columbus, Ga., he offered an apology. Read the Associated Press story here; the Telegraph story is here.

A footnote: The My Lai massacre occurred one month after Associated Press correspondent Peter Arnett filed a story, on Feb. 7, 1968, in which Arnett reported, “‘It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,’ a U.S. major says.” The town in question that day was a Vietnamese provincial capital, Ben Tre. Since then, this type of statement has become known as “Ben Tre logic.”

Spielberg film to boost Tintin’s worldwide profile

Hergé's graphic novels are most popular in Europe.
Hergé's graphic novels are most popular in Europe.

To say Tintin inspired me to become a journalist would be an overstatement. He was, after all, merely a cartoon character who lived inside the covers of my favourite books at the local public library. As a child, I checked out those volumes again and again.

But it probably was Tintin who established the notion in a young, impressionable mind that some people were, by vocation, reporters. Tintin was such a person, even though, throughout his “graphic novel” existence, he never filed a story, content to criss-cross the globe solving mysteries and pursuing crooks, accompanied by the colourful cast of characters that were his friends. Illustrator Georges Remi, who adopted the pen name Hergé (the French pronunciation of his initials, reversed) had me in his spell.

It hasn’t yet made many waves in North America, but in Europe, anticipation of Steven Spielberg’s 3D treatment of the young reporter’s adventures is already arcing upward. The Spielberg project is in post-production, slated for release in the fall of 2011. It stars Jamie Bell as Tintin, Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock and Daniel Craig as Red Rackham. Given that Spielberg’s first Tintin film follows the plot of The Secret of the Unicorn, speculation is already rampant about a sequel, which would naturally be Red Rackham’s Treasure.

Born in Brussels in 1907, Remi’s first drawings appeared in a scouting magazine when he was only 14. Six years later, he’d been hired by the daily newspaper Le Vingtième siècle to be editor-in-chief of Le Petit vingtième, its children’s supplement. The Tintin series was launched in 1929.

Remi managed to spin nearly two dozen tales of intrigue and adventure featuring Tintin, his mostly incompetent allies and a notorious collection of villains, before the illustrator’s death on March 3, 1983. As remarkable as the stories, however, were Herge’s illustrations. At a time when newspapers were just beginning to grasp the reader appeal of the funnies, Tintin’s creator took the art to new levels. Scenes were rendered in great detail compared to the work of his contemporaries; foreign landscapes, besides being vividly appealing, were topographically correct. The plots, too, were fairly complex: spies, arms merchants, smugglers, capitalists and communists, thieves, traitors and assassins abounded, always to be exposed by our hero and his pals.

Today, Hergé’s legacy is carefully guarded by his estate and its conservators in Belgium, who operate the official website. A small band of Tintin enthusiasts worldwide collects trivia and monitors developments, including the international team of bloggers, programmers and moderators at, among them Simon Doyle (@tintinologist on Twitter), and British webmaster Chris Tregenza (@TintinMovie on Twitter), who runs An Hergé museum in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, opened earlier this year.

Below, a short clip in which Hergé draws his famous hero and dog Snowy.