Surviving the story: Local journalists support themselves – and each other

Two of this province’s journalists talk about taking care of themselves and each other while reporting harrowing stories.

Jason Sheppard

During the four years that Meghan McCabe has been working as a journalist for CBC News in St. John’s, she has worked on disturbing stories that she still carries with her.

Meghan McCabe CBC news St. John's journalism reporter
Meghan McCabe of CBC News is an advocate for discussing mental health issues in her newsroom. Submitted photo.

One of those stories was the disappearance of 24-year-old Cortney Lake during the summer of 2017.

Although McCabe remained objective and unbiased in her reporting, she admits it was difficult – especially when speaking with Lake’s family.

“It was impossible to not be affected,” said McCabe. “I, as a person, am overly empathetic anyway, which translates into my stories and my coverage.”

A journalist’s role is to report what happens to the general public but that doesn’t mean reporters aren’t also affected.

“Sometimes you just have to know to turn it off,” McCabe said.

This week has been an emotional one for reporters in this province while covering two major stories – the first-degree murder trial of Trent Butt, who is accused of murdering his own daughter, and the 10th anniversary of the crash of Cougar Flight 491.

“I don’t go home and re-watch the newscast. I don’t read the other articles on a story because I know it’s tough, and I know my limits on it.” – NTV’s Kelly-Anne Roberts

Reporters such as NTV’s Kelly-Anne Roberts understand these stories are sensitive to audiences.

“Generally I’m really good at compartmentalizing and when I leave work, it’s left at work,” said Roberts.

“I don’t go home and re-watch the newscast. I don’t read the other articles on a story because I know it’s tough, and I know my limits on it.”

Part of McCabe’s role as assignment producer is to make sure that everyone on her team is doing OK. That includes watching reporters who are covering court trials pretty closely.

“In general, we all are pretty good at talking to each other about what we’re dealing with when we’re covering stories, even if it’s just to process what the day’s news has been.”

McCabe admits that everybody who comes in contact with the Trent Butt story has certainly been affected by it.

“Someone might say, ‘Oh, this is really hard or this is really getting to me,’ so then you would see someone just take a break and walk away and go do something else.”

Mental health and self-care are two that areas McCabe advocates within her organization. She says journalists have written to thank her, including those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder due to stories they covered in their early years.

Related story: On the front line of Mount Cashel

McCabe says CBC offers a very comprehensive employee assistance program that provides staff with a number to connect them to a local psychologist.

“Sometimes people can get so focused on the work and the deadline and doing your best for the story that it’s easy to forget about taking care of yourself,” McCabe said.

One way McCabe takes care of herself is through physical activity. She is on a rowing crew and practises ballet several times a week.

Reaching out for support

NTV reporter Kelly-Anne Roberts opens up about how reporters need to take care of themselves when covering distressing news stories. Submitted photo. 

Reaching out to other reporters covering the same story is common, especially in small cities such as St. John’s.

“You have to check in with each other because although there’s a lot of good going on in the world, at times that’s not the case because you’re stuck on a story and you’re so invested,” said Roberts.

“The media industry here is pretty small, so in court, it’s always the same reporters and we all check in at recesses to see how everyone is doing.”

Roberts appreciates that the public understands that stories certain can take a mental toll on the reporters covering them.

“I’ve had a lot of support over social media just from the general public so it’s been really heartwarming,” Roberts added.

Roberts also regularly works out in order to keep her physical shape in check as well as her mental health.

“When you’re in a courtroom from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, it can seem pretty dark,” Roberts said.

While some court cases are very hard for this province’s reporters to sit through, Roberts says they do it because the public deserves to know what is going on.

“This is my job and I do love my job – the bad parts and the good parts and all of it in-between.”

If you’re in need of speaking to a mental health professional please contact the Mental Health Crisis Line 1-888-737-4668 or CHANNAL Warm Line 1-855-753-2560

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