Our Voices

Is it possible to ensure Workplace Dignity among journalists in a war zone?

“How does Matthew Chance sleep and stay alert to his surroundings when he appears to be reporting at all hours?”

It’s something many have likely thought about the CNN senior international correspondent, along with countless other journalists working from the front-lines in Ukraine and Russia.

As shelling and other instruments of war are unleashed by Russia across Ukraine, as refugees flee and as other citizens remain to fight for democracy, citizens around the world rely on journalists and a free and open press to accurately report the facts and the human stories of resilience, pride and, yes, loss in that country under siege.

At the same time, we must remember that each on-the-ground journalist – whether reporters and correspondents, photographers or the technical and local teams that provide support – is a worker whose workplace is the dangerous, fraught and emotionally charged theater of war.

In that work environment, as in any, the dignity of workers – their inherent value and worth – needs to be prioritized. That includes, especially, safety and emotional well-being, which, even in more “ordinary” circumstances, are under increasing attack for journalists.

In the case of Chance, his employer, presumably in conversations with him and others in the news organization, recently paused to recognize that a break from the battlefield was necessary to, as The Washington Post reported, allow him “to catch his breath and recover after a few tense months and perilous weeks in Ukraine.” After all, as Chance explained, “I’m so tired that I can barely hold my thoughts together. It’s been exhausting.” Other staff also got a break.

Rotating teams out of wearying assignments makes sense in any work environment where the task is particularly challenging. It helps them refresh and recharge, take at least a partial emotional pause from the work and provide perspectives to other colleagues who take up their places. And during any such pause, smart leaders help their teams process the complicated feelings that come with being removed from what had been an all-consuming perhaps once in a career assignment.

In the case of the Russian invasion of Ukraine this also means that news media leaders need to keep in close contact with their teams, also being mindful of the freelancers and contractors who might not have direct employment relationships but whose work is helping to drive media output. Regular communication, direct acknowledgment of what is heroic and necessary work, offering to support families and loved ones back at home across the world, and alleviating rest-of-life to-do’s where possible, all help center the dignity of journalist teams and allow them to approach their work with some challenges somewhat alleviated.

This also means, of course, not pressuring on-the-ground teams to take unnecessary risks that, here, could result in loss of life or freedom.

And when the workplace hopefully shifts to a more peaceful setting, gratitude and appreciation and mental health support (and, certainly, time off) should be broadly extended to these workers whose craft – delivered under pressure and at extreme risk – will have helped our global community better understand stories of trauma and heroism, loss and leadership, joy and pain.

Siminoff is Senior Vice President, Workplace Dignity at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.