Journalists tell stories every day, but what happens when a journalist becomes the story? Here in J-source, Global Toronto's Mark McAllister describes the events leading up to his much publicized on-air seizure; how he dealt with the media scrutiny that followed; and why a medical condition doesn't stop a reporter from being a reporter.

Journalists tell stories every day, but what happens when a journalist becomes the story? Here in J-source, Global Toronto's Mark McAllister describes the events leading up to his much publicized on-air seizure; how he dealt with the media scrutiny that followed; and why a medical condition doesn't stop a reporter from being a reporter.

*Video courtesy of Global News

As journalists, we're the ones asking the questions, not answering them.  It's easier to do the research and dig to find out more. Reporters can take information and proudly provide something to others they wouldn't have otherwise known. Telling someone else's story is the ideal scenario. When you have to tell your own tale, that confidence can be shaken and finding the words sometimes isn't as easy.

In March, 2011, I had an epileptic seizure live during a Global newscast and couldn’t speak properly. I was the story all of a sudden. Others wanted to show the world what happened to me, for better or worse. The video went viral and comments ranged from supportive to abusive.

My story is one that I had never intended on sharing with anyone other than friends and family. In our business, personal experience and opinions aren’t supposed to be a part of what we do.

Thirty-five seconds of my life changed all that.

Leading up to that point, I knew something wasn’t right with my health, but I hoped it wouldn’t affect my ability to do my job.  Communication in this line of work is key, whether it is written or verbal.

Before that moment in March, I had moments when I’d lose my train of thought while doing an interview or sitting in front a computer writing a script. Doing a voice over and editing a story were occasionally a little more challenging as a result. All it took was waiting it out and that moment of confusion would be gone. I was in the process of setting up appointments with doctors and getting checked out when the on-air “episode” occurred.

Ongoing deadlines throughout the day and the stress associated with that are a big part of being a journalist. Your heart’s pumping, your mind’s racing and there’s no time for delay. There’s not supposed to be any room to deal with a medical condition.


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I didn’t have the choice but to try and continue on working once diagnosed with epilepsy. There was always a chance of experiencing another seizure. Medication would help but there’s the matter of adjusting to dosage.

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Learning to approach things differently meant discussing what I could and could not do with Global. Going live was out of the question for awhile. Needing extra time to work on stories wasn’t an excuse. A day without deadlines had to be a part of the new routine. Thankfully, my employer was very supportive.

It’s been two years since people saw and heard me stumble. At this point, I’m back to ‘normal’. I can go live, meet deadlines, and follow my regular routine–but that doesn’t mean I’m cured. It means I’ve learned to live and work with a medical condition. Many others have to do the same thing and aren’t as fortunate.I’ve since met other journalists who experience seizures and additional side effects related to epilepsy as well. Some are willing to talk about it while others have reached out but want to keep details “off the record” for now. I understand why they would. Like so many people who don’t want to offer their name as part of a story, there’s a fear. They are afraid of being stigmatized.

Not only does the general public have preconceived ideas about seizure disorders, but there’s an expectation for journalists as well.  If we were to share something about ourselves, does that affect our ability to be objective? 

I felt the need to come forward. Not because of what I do but because of who I am. Telling my story as part of a special series on Global gave me the chance to help others. People with epilepsy may not otherwise be able to share or educate. Some of those stories are incredible and have to be told and, more importantly, they need to be heard:

Whitney Goulstone dropped her newborn baby while having a seizure, which prompted her to have surgery and all but eliminate the problem. Wendy Morris still lives with regular seizures and now has to try and cope with her son being diagnosed as well. Sarah Bégin was forced to leave her job working in a kitchen for fear of hurting herself if she were to blackout.

We all have questions. Some of us ask them as part of our profession. Some are forced to try and find the answers because our lives depend on it. Then are those who fall into the position of having to do both. It’s all in an effort to find the truth. No matter how difficult that may be.

Mark McAllister is a journalist with Global Toronto.

mark.mcallister@globalnews.ca

Twitter: @McAllister_Mark