For CWA Canada
Racing to the frontlines to report the news of the world’s great triumphs, tragedies and scandals is what makes journalism so thrilling — from conflict zones, to the house fire down the street.
But the job can also come at a personal cost to the well-being and mental health of media workers: our videographers, reporters, editors and staff who day in and day out endure a steady diet of other people’s trauma, amidst endless deadlines, filing pressures, shift work … not to mention job instability.
I know. After 25 years I carry vivid memories and scars from the stresses and stories I’ve covered detailing murder, sexual violence, crimes against children, and endless tales of victims’ suffering.
I am very proud to announce the launch today of an industry-wide initiative called “Taking Care: A Survey on Mental Health, Well-being and Trauma in Canadian Journalism.”
Please, take this rare opportunity to be counted. Add your voice. Share your experience. The survey will collect responses through the month of November.
This survey is a first-of-its-kind research project in Canada that is seeking anonymous input from thousands of media workers across the country. The objective is to get a better understanding of the state of the industry, the challenges, supports, and gaps that exist in support of mental health and well-being on the job.
The project is a partnership between myself, Matthew Pearson, an assistant professor at Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication, and the Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma. It’s also endorsed and backed by news organizations, the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec, several unions, including CWA Canada, and many others in the industry.
“Whether reporting on the pandemic, racism, or climate change, doing journalism is becoming more emotionally taxing every day,” says Fatima Syed, vice-president of the CAJ. “I’ve seen journalists cry publicly and privately. I’ve heard reporters admit to feeling total despair and futility.
“To help, we need to first understand the extent of mental health struggles members of our industry are experiencing. That’s why this survey is so important.”
David Walmsley, editor-in-chief of The Globe and Mail, says the “survey will create a starting point to better understand what needs to be done to improve the mental well-being of journalists. The cumulative effect of exposure to serious news events needs to be recognized and better understood.”
While there’s growing awareness about trauma and mental health, I regret to say the news industry is extremely poor at talking about it. We aren’t experts in knowing how to best support our people. We’re all swimming in a news culture that puts the story first, views vulnerability as weakness, and demands we “suck it up” to get the job done.
We can do better. There are “best practices” involving better training, policies and preventative support to help strengthen our teams and our people, to minimize potential psychological harms inherent in our ever-racing, adrenaline-filled profession.
But to fix things, we first need to understand the problems faced by our people, be they full-timers or freelancers, union or management, journalists of colour, Indigenous, Black, LGBTQ, private, public, front-line, behind the scenes.
I am grateful for the support of our union leaders and our news companies who are getting behind this independent research, knowing we face unique challenges, especially given the pandemic, recent news focus on the legacy of Indigenous residential schools, spikes in hate targeting journalists, and an important reckoning with systemic racism in our industry.