Looking back on the year that is about to end, and thinking
ahead to the new year and the resolutions we often make
at its doorstep,
I see a matter for discussion that grows out of the biggest news
to hit our world in 2008. Tim Russert’s sudden newsroom death
in June, which struck all who heard it as a “not-to-be believed,” incomprehensible, “has
to be wrong” stunner.
As we listened to the coverage, the initial “this can’t
be true” reaction slowly turned into “how exactly did
this happen?” Little by little came the explanation. Coronary
heart disease. Thickened heart muscle. Carrying too much weight.
Trip to Italy and home again on short turnaround. Back at work
on two hours sleep.
Never having worked with Tim Russert, only with others who
had, I‘ve waited until the dust settled, long after the tributes
from those who knew him were in, to return to something Andrea
Mitchell said on-air that Friday afternoon when his colleagues
were first pulling the story together, before it was clear exactly
what it was that took Russert’s life so unexpectedly.
She knew, as he did, that he weighed too much. Worked hard.
Her words were something to the effect that news people in
don’t eat right, sleep right,
exercise. Don’t always take the best care of themselves the way they
Obviously, we love the job. The adrenaline rush. The unpredictability. We
are happy to do it, at all hours. Whenever something neat is happening. Plane
Prison riots, Like babies being born for an obstetrician, stories happen
when they darn well happen. And if you’re an outside person, you’re out
the door in the middle of the night or hopping a plane to Timbuktu. If you’re
an inside person, you may be canceling your theater tickets and munching
down a slice or two of pizza with a coke at your desk while on overtime until
crisis is over.
For many, in fact, it’s the unpredictability of it all that’s
the treat. No 9 to 5 life for us.
Ah, but all of us know the drill for a healthy life. We could write the copy.
As any two year old can tell you, a healthy life follows some pretty simple
rules. Eat right. Sleep 8 hours. Exercise at least 30 minutes three times
a week. Avoid
What news person do you know who can easily follow that drill? Life for a
journalist is always changing. How do you eat three square a day? How do
you get to the
gym on a schedule?
Avoid stress? News is the very definition of stress. The pressure to file.
Deadlines to meet. The competition to beat. Office politics. Not to mention
the kinds of
personalities attracted to the excitement and irregularity of the work to
A life in news, it seems, is the very antithesis of a healthy life. It doesn’t
easily allow for it.
Tim Russert, it was clear, loved the job. So did a colleague of mine who
sat down in his chair one day after years of racing through airports, lugging
his video stock, making air from one continent to another, to find his stomach
had exploded. He loved his job, too, though it nearly killed him.
Loving the job doesn’t give you special protection, though many of
us often think it does
We’re not bulletproof. We’re not.
It’s clear. What Andrea Mitchell had to say is true for many of us. We
don’t always take the best care of ourselves.
I also imagine pointing all this out to someone in pursuit of a hot story
or a budding career is not going to change a thing.
Even so, I offer the point.
A man I worked with once used to have a sign on his office door. This was
not his saying, and it was meant about war, but it applies here as well.
It read, “You
can’t file if you’re dead.”
As we head into a new
year, all I can think of as I offer these words of caution is
--- while you’re running around having
a great life in journalism, where… and when… andif it’s
possible, “Make sure the deadline you are on isn’t
Eileen Douglas is a broadcast journalist turned independent
documentary filmmaker. Former 1010 WINS New York anchor/reporter
Lifetime Magazine,” she is the author of “Rachel and the Upside Down
Heart,” and co-producer of the films “My Grandfather’s House” and “Luboml:
My Heart Remembers.” She can be reached at www.douglas-steinman.com.