How to live-report depravity and move on with your life

Live coverage of the Russell Williams’ case had reporters making
on-the-fly editorial and ethical decisions while facing a horrific
barrage of images and information. Now that the sentencing is over, six reporters tell us how they’re coping.

Jim Rankin, Toronto Star

“I’m not traumatized, perhaps because I covered the Paul Bernardo trial in 1995. I never sought counselling, although it was offered. My trick, if you call it that, was to recognize that these were purely evil acts that defy rational explanation. They were like a room; you could walk into it and never leave, or, you could enter, take a look around and acknowledge it for what it is, and leave. Not being a party to any of it, I was able to leave the room. Or, at least I think I did. People still ask about what that trial did to me. With Williams, some people — including my mother — checked in during the trial to see if I was okay. I am okay. I think Bernardo served as an inoculation of sorts.

It may sound corny, but I do believe is our job to bear witness, for the sake of the dead, and the victims and their families and friends, for whom grief and anger remains so raw.”

Amber Hildebrandt, CBC

“Yes, this was an upsetting experience. Despite the few hours of sleep we were getting the week of the hearing, due to the 15-17-hour days, I found myself waking in the night with images shown in court in my head and a sudden need to check the hotel room’s closet, etc. Upon arrival back home in Toronto, I found myself abnormally angry and abrupt with cashiers and others. Mind you, at this point I’ve probably barely dealt with it considering how fresh the case is in my head. To be honest, I’m not sure how I will deal with it. I’m trying to

Joanna Smith, Toronto Star

“The horrific details were difficult to hear, and I feel very strongly for the victims and their families. It was difficult not to imagine myself in their shoes, and I hope that neither I nor anyone else ever has to walk in them. . . . While the instantaneous nature of Twitter shifts much of the responsibility for news judgment, ethics and accuracy to the individual reporter, the responsibility to make those decisions remains as important as ever. I would do an internal instinct check before sending every tweet (ie. Does this add anything to the story? Or is it gratuitous?) and I believe that practice is what led to the positive feedback I got from followers vastly outweighing the negative.”

Dave Seglins, CBC

Not an hour after I’d wrapped up filing my last radio report last week chronicling the gruesome sentencing of Russell Williams, the message came through. A producer at CBC News Network wondered whether I’d be willing to come in on the weekend to be part of a live TV panel discussion on ‘what it was like covering such a horrific case.’ I turned them down, saying I wasn’t ready to answer that question on live TV. First, in deference to the murder and assault victims and the many grieving relatives in court, the story surely wasn’t yet about the journalist’s experience. Second, I wasn’t sure how I was feeling. Thank god. Turns out, I’d have been a blubbering mess. (Read the rest of Seglin’s response in “One reporter’s trial“.)

Meghan Hurley, Ottawa Citizen

I was quite detached from the whole experience for the first few days. But after reading all of the media coverage on Wednesday, I started to become bothered by the details that were emerging in court. To deal with it, I talked about it with a lot of friends and colleagues and writing everyday for the Citizen helps. . . . I did a play-by-play from the courtroom on Twitter. Many people stopped following me because it was too graphic, even though I was censoring what I was tweeting quite a bit.

Adrian Humphreys, National Post

Days later, I find Williams’ feverish attacks still invade my sleep. But I wake up. Their misery (the victims’ families) remains. . . . Journalists often see a lot of sick, brutal stuff. As do police officers, soldiers, ambulance attendants, doctors, child welfare workers and on and on. It’s part of the job. The only “dealing” with it that needed to be done was the company of intelligent and engaging colleagues who were sharing the experience, meeting hours before dawn to wait in line together, helping to put the evidence in context throughout the day, to relieve the tension with jokes and to help purge the day’s events over dinner and beers long into the night — debating with our editors over the phone whether we can say “blood-stained panties” on the front page while picking away at shrimp vindaloo. My fiercest competitors were my best friends for four days.