Former CBS correspondent Randall Pinkston has covered more than his share of important stories. Whether it’s the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or the Newtown school shootings, he’s been on the front lines for more than 30 years. Sometimes, Pinkston says, the emotion gets the best of him.
“I struggle with that. There have been several stories where I’ve felt overwhelmed, times when I’ve come to tears interviewing someone,” said Pinkston. “I would apologize and admit that was unprofessional. To the best of my ability, I try to take ‘me’ out of it and just report the facts.”
Now, working for Al Jazeera America, Pinkston says he thinks one of the missing pieces in journalism education and in-service training for professional journalists is a discussion of coping skills followed a traumatic event.
“It’s a serious concern that’s been ignored for too long.”
In his own experience, Pinkston says he’s seen CBS make crisis counseling available following certain stories, such as in the aftermath of 9-11. Yet, organizations like the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma recognize that the cumulative effects of covering smaller tragedies, such as car accidents and child abuse stories, can take their toll, too. So, Pinkston says, journalists have to recognize their own limitations.
“First, don’t be a substance-abuser, too many journalists rely on drugs and alcohol to cope,” said Pinkston. “Do talk to your colleagues; that can sometimes be the ultimate therapy. And knowing when it’s time to take a break, that’s critical.”
Pinkston says sometimes you have to ask for time away from the job to regroup. Even when you’re not dealing with trauma, Pinkston urges journalists, especially those just getting into the field, to recognize the need to prevent the career from becoming all consuming.
“You have to plan how to live your life other than journalism,” Pinkston said. “You need to exercise, maintain personal relationships – otherwise you’ll be on your laptop on the Web 24/7. It’s really easy for journalism to become your one and only thing. Having a life requires time management.”