This article was first published in The Times of Israel.
“Had I known then what I know now, I would have gone straight to the nearest shrink,” Chris Cramer, Global Editor for Multimedia at Reuters, told The Times of Israel in relation to his being held hostage at the Iranian Embassy in London in 1980. Cramer, at the time working for the BBC, had gone to the embassy to get a visa to enter Iran to cover the American embassy hostage crisis there. Unfortunately, the journalist had only been standing in line a few minutes when the building was stormed by six terrorists. Cramer escaped after 36 hours by faking a heart attack. “At the time, I was appalled at the suggestion that I might have had Posttraumatic Stress Disorder,” said Cramer, who refused stress counseling offered by his employer and the United Kingdom’s Home Office. “But I ended up suffering for a long time,” he admitted.
What Cramer knows now is due in part to his own experience in news management at Reuters since 2008, and before that as Managing Director of CNN International. But it is also thanks to the groundbreaking work of Dr. Anthony Feinstein. A Jewish South African-born, British-trained neuropsychiatrist at the University of Toronto, Feinstein, 55, was the first to systematically and scientifically study and document the psychological effects of covering war and violent conflict on journalists. “Anthony has become over time the world’s acknowledged expert on PTSD among war journalists,” Cramer said. “The guy’s a genius. He’s become a magnet for my colleagues. Anyone can contact him.”
Indeed, any frontline journalist anywhere in the world can contact Feinstein via the “War, Journalism, and Stress” website he has set up and monitors with funding from CNN that allows them to take a self-assessment on depression, PTSD, trauma history, substance abuse, and general psychological wellbeing. Journalists receive immediate feedback on their scores and may be advised to make an appointment with their doctor or with the person coordinating their company’s employee assistance program. In the seven years that the website has existed, thousands of journalists from 40 different countries have used it.
Until the modest and approachable Feinstein came along, however, it was highly unusual for news organizations to offer psychological assessment and counseling to their reporters, producers, videographers and photographers in the field. “Media organizations didn’t want to get involved because it would increase the liability issue,” reflected Jeffrey Dvorkin, director of the University of Toronto’s journalism program and former Managing Editor at CBC Radio and Vice President for News and Information at NPR. “We constantly saw the trauma. It was part of the landscape to have people who were ‘difficult,’ who were ‘characters.’ We had to ‘manage’ them, but we didn’t have to address the issues. We’d push them until they broke and then we’d send them back in.”
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© 2012 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.