A Tucson reporter on the lack of mental health support in his field

By Carla Litto/El Inde

Last January, first responders and law enforcement officials in Phoenix responded to a call involving three kids under the age of three who were found unresponsive. Medical personnel were unable to revive the young children after doing an hour’s-worth of CPR, and as a result, the first responders and officers had to be sent home, traumatized.

While working in the KVOA, News 4 Tucson newsroom that night, my colleagues and I discussed how the first responders were sent home because the incident had affected them mentally and emotionally.

However, for journalists like us, there is no comparable mental health support. My colleagues at News 4 Tucson have covered difficult and traumatic stories, sometimes with little help. One of them is Eric Fink, a 32-year-old broadcast journalist who has been with News 4 Tucson for approximately two-and-a-half years.

“I was always wanting to be a sports broadcaster, and in some ways, I still want to do that,” Fink told me. “I think was about five, I loved watching the NBA Finals but I was actually more interested in what Marv Albert had to say than actually watching Michael Jordan.”

Fink knew he “was bitten by the broadcasting bug quite early.”

“I’m a sensitive guy,” Fink said. “I think you need a certain sensitivity to do our job, to be a journalist, to be a really good reporter.”

Last year, Eric covered a story about a high school girl from Tucson’s eastside who was diagnosed with a serious form cancer called glioblastoma. It turned out the girl, 18 year-old Julia Moser, only had months left to live and covering her story would have a big effect on him.

“It was a Saturday afternoon, and I got a call saying, ‘Hey, there’s this girl. She’s 18, she’s a senior at Palo Verde high school on the eastside and she’s missing prom tonight because she’s in the hospital with brain cancer,’” Fink told me, as he sat there remembering.

Fink described the first time he met Moser, when six or seven of her family members crowded into a very small hospital room surrounding her. At the time, Moser wasn’t wearing a wig and she had no hair due to chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Fink then told me what was going through his head at that moment. “I’m thinking to myself, ‘Wow this could be a very good story,’ and I talked with her dad,” he said.

“When your future’s uncertain, we don’t dwell on it,” said Julia’s dad, Russ, during an interview with Fink.

“You got to make the best of it,” Moser told Fink. “It sounds crazy, but you have to.”

The following December, Fink received the call telling him that Moser had passed away.

“You never go with the outset of thinking a story’s going to have a really personal effect on you,” he said. “But I knew after leaving that hospital room, that this was a family I needed to keep in touch with because personally I was affected by the story.”

Fink would be invited to the funeral and when he arrived, Moser’s father asked him if he would mind saying a few words.

Looking back on it, Fink said he wouldn’t change his sense of empathy nor would he shy away from some stories, knowing there’s no emotional support for him out there — even though he thinks there should be resources for journalists.

“I often think sometimes (that) our managers, however they are, they don’t go out in the field. Our producers, they don’t go out on the field like we do,” said Fink.

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