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B.C. TV reporter takes break, citing traumatic work and online abuse

“The traumatic stories, graphic images and online abuse finally got to me.”
Alissa Thibault.

A Vancouver TV reporter has stepped back from her work for a while, citing burnout and early onset post-traumatic stress disorder from covering traumatic stories and online abuse.

Alissa Thibault joined CTV News Vancouver in 2019 after coming to Vancouver from her native Australia. She worked as a writer on CBC News Network with Ian Hanomansing, and as an anchor at News1130 before becoming the breaking news producer for CBC’s The National in 2018.

However, Thibault has been on a break since last month.

“I haven’t been on-air since this day, April 6. I had felt 'off' for a while and a few days later my counsellor told me I had burnout and early onset PTSD,” Thibault said on Twitter May 19. “The traumatic stories, graphic images and online abuse finally got to me after 12 years in the news business.”

She said she’s thankful she caught the situation in time, that her employers have encouraged her to take time to heal.

“I’ll be back,” she said.

The Twitter post drew much support from colleagues and viewers alike.

“You are a total pro,” replied Global journalist Jordan Armstrong. “Among the best journalists in the city. Take the time you need to heal and process what you’ve experienced. We need you!”

Journalism, trauma and abuse

Sadly, Thibault’s situation is not unusual.

recent report from the Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma on media workers' mental health and trauma found harassment increased during the pandemic. That was on top of the stresses of covering difficult and distressing events.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a diminished sense of well-being and heightened feelings of isolation, while also exposing people to more harassment and creating real fears about financial stability and job security,” the report said. “A surprisingly high rate of people — more than half — have sought medical help to deal with work-related stress and trauma.”

A survey included with the report found journalists have been increasingly targeted and intimidated online for doing their jobs. The poll found 56 per cent of Canadian media workers reported being harassed or threatened on social media, and 35 per cent said they also experienced face-to-face harassment while working in the field.

Workers with the highest profiles or most visible job roles are most likely to report worsening online harassment. Those break down as:

  • 85 per cent of video journalists;
  • 71 per cent of photographers;
  • 67 per cent of hosts/presenters;
  • 55 per cent of reporters; and,
  • 53 percent of camera operators.

Those figures do not preclude print or online journalists suffering from the same stresses and attacks.

Those who choose to abuse journalists could find themselves in a courtroom.

In March, a Vancouver provincial court judge sentenced Richard Sean Oliver to a year of probation for sending journalist Jody Vance more than 100 abusive emails.

The 53-year-old pleaded guilty to one count of criminal harassment.

The judge called Oliver’s anonymous attacks on Vance "cowardly," "predatory" and unacceptable in a civilized society.

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