Wednesday, October 28, 2009

You Know a Journalists' Chaplain

There is a Need

“Maybe journalists need a chaplain.” I posited in a post a little over a month ago. The response was all over the place, which is to be expected when you ask the question directly to journalists. “No,” they say. “I’m fine.”

The journalists working the Paul DeVoe murder trial at the time may be fine, all the graphic photos and testimony notwithstanding. They may be fine because they have found ways to compartmentalize and remove themselves from the moment as they report the trial. Having covered capital murder trials and crime scenes, I get it. Also, however, having covered horrific events, I still can conjure up pictures, even “movies” in my mind from those moments.

I can recall many times standing with cops in the dead of night, talking, laughing, and joking while a dead body was just yards away. It’s part of the job. While you’re talking, laughing, and joking, you are also gathering information that may be part of the story.

When I asserted a month ago that journalists may need a chaplain, the response on Facebook and to this medium was mostly positive, although there is some confusion. One journalist wrote, “Definitely, and a counselor too.” A chaplain is not necessarily a counselor. Most of the time, they are two different people. A trained and licensed counselor is a professional who may sort through difficult circumstances to a healing conclusion. A chaplain is a person who is a presence—someone who is there for someone else who is hurting. The chaplain may offer suggestions or advice if it is appropriate. Further, a chaplain is there for people of faith, of little faith, or no faith at all.

Journalists’ comments to this concept found after the “newsmcnabb” post were profound. You can see them in full after the September 28, 2009 post “A Moment on Murder’s Row”:

I'm sure the news affected everyone. I'll never forget how my Chief Photog, a tough as nails West Texan, looked coming back from old 620, when a car full of teens shot off the curve on the dam, and rolled 700 feet.

“Jim is absolutely right that reporting on violence and death week after week takes a toll. It does sometimes lead to despair. .. Of course that has an effect. There are some images you can never shake.

“Yes, the carnage that covering the events from day to day does leave scars on all of us in ways seen and unseen... and I do believe that there needs to be some kind of support system... religious, or secular, for the unbelievers... for all of us.

“I think there is a place both for professional counseling services to be provided to reporters by their employers, but also a need for associations where people of like-minded faiths, and even across faiths, can gather to encourage each other.

There are some people who disagree. Their comments are also included after the September 28th newsmcnabb post.

I believe that all people are “called” in life. Some people don’t buy into that, and they don’t hear or answer the “call”. They may be happy anyway. Others may hear multiple “calls”. I think, arising out of an individual’s talents, training, beliefs, and opportunities, there is a call to specific work. Journalism must be a calling. Why would people do this work if they were not called? Also, calls may also change over time.

Before writing the post a month ago, I’d set in motion the process of becoming a chaplain, a chaplain to journalists. I am now an ordained and licensed chaplain.

I have a web site. (Of course, every initiative must have a web site, It speaks to the need for a journalist chaplain. This is not uncommon. There are chaplains for the military, the emergency services, and in corporations. All of these are stressful. There is stress in a newsroom too, right? And it bleeds over into journalists’ personal lives. I’m going to let the site explain.

Am I going to stop writing this journalism/media criticism and news blog? No. Am I going to cease communications consulting and publicity? No. Am I someone other than the person you have known for years? No. Am I now going to take a vow of silence or something? No. Am I suddenly pious and judgmental? No, of course not. Years ago, when my pastor approached me about being a deacon, I responded saying, “You know I’m not very pious.” He knew that.

So, before making hasty judgments, I ask you to check out the web site above.

Further, yes, I’m a chaplain to journalists, but I’m a chaplain, period. No, I’m not a counselor, but I know some good ones.

For those who know me personally, this does not a big change. This is pretty much who I have been throughout my career. People who know me know that I care. Yeah, I can be grouchy in the mornings, but I care. Where is this going, if anywhere? I don't know. It's a little frightening.

Yes, there should be a chaplain to journalists, and you know one.

© Jim McNabb, 2009


Flyjax said...

There's absolutely a need. And you're the guy to fill it. Yes, you're difficult in the mornings. Sometimes you're difficult in the afternoons! But you've been there, done that and have the grace-based insight to help and inspire others. I think you'll be a help to many, an asset to all and a blessing to any to need a listening ear.

Lisa Glass said...

Dude, today's news about the Yogurt Shop murders made me think of this very topic. I remember that particular story affecting me quite a bit, along with the Killeen Luby's massacre. Oh, the things we see and compartmentalize....good for you, to be offering such a service.

Lance said...

Amen. Are you available for PNSS? (Post News Stress Syndrome)

NewsMcNabb said...

PNSS? Sure.