How do journalism programs and schools teach their students how to cover violence and trauma?
Most courses treat ‘covering violence and trauma’ as an ‘issue’ to be addressed in courses on other subjects, rather than as worthy of a ‘stand-alone’ course itself.
Educators covered trauma issues mainly during lectures dedicated to teaching basic journalism skills.
When curricula did address covering violence and trauma they tended to focus on three issues:
- The moral, ethical, and professional responsibilities of the journalist in covering trauma. Some curricula also covered the repercussions, fallout, and long-term effects of this reporting on the journalist, on the victim and on the news outlet. Few mentioned the effect of coverage of trauma on media audiences.
- The practice of interviewing, including the impact of interviews on victims and survivors as well as on the journalists.
- The manner in which war and conflict are covered (often taught through an historical lens).
What was not covered in the analyzed curricula were several topics critical to responsible on-the-ground coverage of trauma and violence:
- Being a first responder to an accident or crime scene.
- Dealing with trauma and stress reactions, especially dealing with PTSD.
- Covering child abuse and domestic violence.
- Covering drug abuse and addiction and drug related violence.
There is a dearth of curricular materials for trauma journalism, especially for stand-alone courses fully dedicated to the topic.
Most of the 623 surveyed educators did not offer any trauma-related syllabi or curricular material for analysis. Many even asked if they could receive curricular material sent by other professors. Among the 22 faculty who did submit materials, only one-quarter supplied syllabi for stand-alone courses fully dedicated to trauma journalism. One educator explained the lack of emphasis in what he submitted by saying, “My syllabus only obliquely deals with trauma, while, in fact, I do deal quite extensively with it in class, especially using current events that cannot be foreseen to put in the syllabus.”
Disclaimer: unlike the survey results, the results of this qualitative section may not be generalizable beyond the analyzed curricular materials submitted.