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No Secret for Editors: Stress A Bugaboo of Newsrooms

October 25, 1995

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ Newsroom editors report laboring under tremendous stress, with pressures from bosses, budgets, co-workers and other sources making four out of 10 ill, according to a study presented Wednesday at a meeting of the Associated Press Managing Editors.

``I nearly died from work-related stress 90 days ago,″ one editor wrote in response to the survey presented by Peter Bhatia, managing editor of The Oregonian. ``This is a wonderful way to gain perspective.″

But neither the only way, nor the best one, exercise expert Dr. Kenneth Cooper told the group. ``Exercise is nature’s best tranquilizer,″ he told the gathering.

Of 600 editors who responded to a questionnaire, 47 percent rated their jobs highly stressful. Half reported working under more stress now than a year ago, while only one in 10 reported less stress.

The stress can’t be attributed entirely to big-city life, or low pay, either. The median income reported was $55,000, and nearly half the editors work at papers with circulation of 50,000 or less.

Editors felt caught by demands on their time, too little time for family, and pressure from superiors and the company. ``My boss gets jerked around by his boss, and he passes on the pain to me,″ one wrote. All editors were promised confidentiality.

``The sense or feeling of not being in control is always distressful,″ said Dr. Paul Rosch, director of the American Institute of Stress in Yonkers, N.Y.

The key to dealing with stress is learning to distinguish between matters that can be controlled and those that can’t, he said. In choosing among a variety of stress control techniques, many offered by so-called experts, remember that no one technique works for everyone, he said.

``Stress is an unavoidable consequence of life,″ he said.

Later, Attorney General Janet Reno addressed the group, saying the federal government is looking at new ways to speed the release of documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

``Why is it that while other aspects of our legal system recognize the need to alleviate burdensome and duplicative requests, we remain frozen, unable to do something about FOIA?″ she said.

Reno said the Justice Department ended last year with a backlog of about 30,000 requests under the FOIA.

Earlier Wednesday, APME president Lawrence K. Beaupre, vice president and editor of The Cincinnati Enquirer, delivered the convention’s opening address, telling editors the newspaper business is in better shape than most believe.

By newspapers’ own accounts, they suffer from disappearing readers and declining circulation and face threatening challenges from broadcasters and now worldwide computer linkups, he said.

This dire picture leaves some in the business longing for ``good old days that never existed,″ he said. Profit margins and employment at many papers remain strong, despite increased costs for newsprint and growing competition for advertising dollars.

``The truth is, the newspaper industry is not dying, it is thriving,″ Beaupre said. ``It is alive with ideas and bristling with change.″

Following Beaupre’s remarks, AP vice president and executive editor William Ahearn said AP’s initiatives for next year will include more regional news stories produced by staff writers and by member newspapers.

The added emphasis on regional reporting will begin with Western states and expand to include other regions.

Ahearn also said the AP will continue to work on improving the quality of reporting and writing on the state as well as the national level.

Sports Editor Terry Taylor told the gathering that Ron Sirak, now the deputy sports editor, will become the AP’s golf writer, replacing Bob Green, who is retiring after almost 30 years on the beat.

In addition to writing golf, Sirak will become AP’s first sports writing coach, working to improve the sports reports filed by state bureaus.

The convention’s morning session included a discussion with AP executive photo editor Vin Alabiso on the use of sensitive or controversial news photographs.

The APME also presented its annual writing and photography awards.

The AP’s Moscow bureau was cited for its spot news coverage of the Russian army’s attack on Chechnya.

The feature writing award went to Steve Wilstein, a sports writer in the San Francisco bureau, for an in-depth profile of Glenn Burke, a one-time outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland Athletics who died of AIDS.

Evansville, Ind., Correspondent Ted Bridis, News Editor John Strauss and statehouse reporter Mike Smith of the Indianapolis bureau won the APME’s enterprise award. The three used a database of all campaign contributions to members of the state Legislature for a two-year period to examine special interest giving to state lawmakers.

Top photography awards went to Jean-Marc Bouju, based in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, for coverage from Rwanda; and Mark Humphrey for his picture of a rescue worker and his search dog at the Oklahoma City bomb site.

Bouju, one of the first photographers to go to Rwanda, covered every phase of the conflict and won the news category. Humphrey, a Nashville AP photographer assigned to help cover the Oklahoma City bombing, won the feature category.

Anne Thompson won the John L. Dougherty Award, for stories that included a profile of a panhandler and a report on foreign death scams to collect life insurance.

Thompson was a writer in the Boston bureau who transferred to the International Desk in New York this year.

The Dougherty Award recognizes an outstanding reporter with less than three years’ AP experience.

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