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Dealing with stress is part of the job

News directors have different ways to deal with stress during volatile work days.

Some take five in their office with door firmly shut.

Some pray.

John DiSciullo tackles the stressor head on and then prays, like the day in March last year when retired Buffalo Sabre Rick Martin died.

“That was a terrible tragedy,” said DiSciullo, who spent more than three years as news director at WKBW-TV. “I remember where I was when I found out. I was getting coffee at Tim Hortons, and I saw this text, and in a second your whole day changes.”

DiSciullo reached out to his sports-reporting team of Jeff Russo and Shawn Stepner, and then he drove to the station.

“On a big story day, you get involved,” he said. “The [Clarence] plane crash was the same thing. You depend on your team. You’re always in touch.”

DiSciullo, who now works for WBBZ-TV as executive director of production and promotion, also organized marathon relays for him and his staff to participate in at WKBW Channel 7.

“I run, but I wouldn’t consider myself a runner,” said DiSciullo, who ran three miles on a treadmill while watching election returns. “The positive stress relief of exercise and healthy eating helped me. On election night, I would make sure to include salad with the pizza and wings.

“And I pray a lot. I’m very open about that,” he said. “I take personal comfort, and hope to help others by praying and trying to channel out negative energy.”

At WGRZ-TV Channel 2, news director Jeff Woodard does not get stressed about major news events – anymore.

“The adrenalin starts flowing. That’s not stress to me,” Woodard said. “Stress occurs when there’s a major problem of some kind or a difficult conversation is coming up. That’s when I close the door and give myself a break.”

Woodard has worked as Channel 2 news director about four years. Whether he’s on or off the job, Woodard said he remains electronically tethered to the station.

“My phone is never off,” Woodard said. “I’ll get a call in the middle of the night, I’ll get a call when I’m with my family. A story popped up, or someone called in for the morning. Those decisions should be made by the news director. That is my philosophy. I want to be involved. I’d rather have a phone call at 2 a.m. than wake to something that’s 8 hours old, and I’m told when I get to work.”

Traditionally, news directors have not enjoyed stable employment, said Mike Cavender, a former news director at CBS affiliates in Washington, Atlanta, Tampa and Nashville.

“At one point the average tenure of a television news director was 2½ to 3 years,” said Cavender. “Some of the turnover is forced because the news director lives and dies largely by the ratings, as do general managers. Plus, the business itself has traditionally been one where people tend to move voluntarily to larger markets to advance their careers.”

As executive director of the Radio Television Digital News Association, Cavender oversees an organization that supports 2,500 electronic journalists. He said there are about 800 broadcast or cablecast news operations in the country that employ news directors.

News director Ed Buttaccio of Time-Warner Cable’s YNN has learned many ways to keep stress at bay while splitting his time between newsrooms in Buffalo, which opened in March 2009, and Rochester, where he has worked for nearly 16 years.

“I compartmentalize my life,” Buttaccio said. “If I’m in a meeting, I’m not going to be looking at my BlackBerry. I think you have to make the most of the moment at the time.”

When the remnants of Hurricane Sandy passed through the area, Buttaccio spent the day in Buffalo and the night in Rochester.

“I can’t be in two places at once,” he said, “so I delegate. If it were just me it would be overwhelming, but I have a very able team. That’s 90 employees in two newsrooms.”

Delegating tasks is a management skill that some news directors have trouble mastering, said Jill Geisler of Poynter Institute. It can lead to newsroom paralysis.

“If you don’t have a rock-solid team,” said Geisler, “you have a ‘Wait till your mom gets home’ situation where nobody can make a decision unless the news director is there.”