Don't Mention the S-Word

By Glenda Cooper and Jennifer Rodger | The Independent (London, England), July 28, 1997 | Go to article overview
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Don't Mention the S-Word


Glenda Cooper and Jennifer Rodger, The Independent (London, England)


The tributes to the late Vincent Hanna last week spoke admiringly of his boundless energy and prodigious ability for hard work. "One of the most richly and variously gifted journalists of his generation, he simply did too much for too long. Until yesterday, he never stopped," said Andrew Marr, writing in this paper. "Hanna packed more into his 58 years of life than most people would get into 88."

Simply contemplating Hanna's punishing work schedule would have made most people faint. Although a unique character, he was one of a growing number of "portfolio journalists" who presented radio and television programmes, and wrote newspaper columns and books. On top of that, he clung to old Fleet Street habits of enjoying life to the full, eating, drinking and conversing hard.

Journalists are working harder today as a result of changes in the industry, and where journalism leads other professions will follow. Casual work and short-term contracts are now the norm, as staff jobs decrease in number. More and more writers are having to prove themselves versatile enough to earn a living as "portfolio" journalists. While Hanna worked because he wanted to, many freelances just cannot say no to work and end up with overloaded schedules. But Professor Cary Cooper, an organisational psychologist at UMIST, warns that this increasing casualisation of the workforce is a major source of stress in the industry. "The majority of the industry is now freelance or short-term contract, so the first form of stress is the insecurity," he said. "The second leads on from that: the inability to say `No' - the terror that if you say no they will never ask you again rather than thinking `I'm going on holiday' or `I'm too busy' or `It's eight o'clock on Saturday night.' " Sarah Katz, of the Health Education Authority, says: "Research does show that sustained intensive work patches do have progressive implications. You can only work 12-hour days for a couple of days before mental fatigue sets in. Extended male working hours have also been linked to family breakdown and the fact that there are 5,000 extra deaths through coronary heart disease a year in the UK can be linked to the stress of working more than a 48-hour week." Professor Cooper also feels that there are particular aspects of a journalist's work that can make the situation worse. "For a lot of journalists, deadlines are the source of frenetic activity," he says. "There is also the stress of having your work rejected or immediately evaluated. How many people work in the public arena like this? Journalists also jump from story to story, which can be stimulating, but means there is no continuity and can ultimately be less satisfying." But nobody forces anybody to be a journalist. Ian Jack, editor of Granta and formerly editor of The Independent on Sunday and an award-winning writer on The Sunday Times, thinks that journalists are the sort of people who need the pressure of a deadline to get anything done: "In my case I probably wouldn't get anything done without one.

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