Methodology & Authors

Commissioned by the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma and conducted by the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda (ICMPA), this study aimed to understand how accredited journalism programs across the United States teach their students how to cover violent events and report on trauma.

Researchers at ICMPA surveyed 623 faculty members on core questions relating to where and how they taught trauma journalism material. The study also used qualitative interviews with a select number of the surveyed faculty to gather more in-depth information about their approaches. Researchers also analyzed syllabi and curricular material submitted by some of the surveyed faculty. Finally, the study researchers interviewed 23 journalists who had covered various sorts of trauma events to capture their experiences and insights into how students can be better trained and prepared for such events.

The study undertook to examine all the ACEJMC-accredited schools in the United States. One additional non-accredited program that has a unique trauma training curriculum, at the University of Oklahoma, was also included in the survey. ACEJMC is recognized by both the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education as the accrediting body for U.S. journalism schools.

Survey of Educators

The largest and main part of this study was a survey of journalism faculty members. The research team attempted to conduct a census of all journalism and media studies educators in AEJMC-accredited U.S. journalism programs. Out of a list of 2393 educators, 623 faculty fully participated in the survey during October and November, 2007. The survey consisted of an online questionnaire of 57 close-ended and open-ended questions.

The majority of those who completed the online survey (58%) were over 50 years old. Twenty-one percent of participants were between the ages of 41 and 50, and one-fifth were 40 years old or younger. The vast majority of participants described themselves as Caucasian (81%). African-Americans made up 6% of the sample, Asian-Americans 4%, Hispanics 3%, and Native Americans 1.5%. Males (53%) outnumbered females (46%).

The majority of participants were full-time assistant professors, associate professors or full professors (23%, 25% and 17% respectively). About one third of participants were either part-time adjuncts (16%) or full-time instructors/lecturers (15%). The rest held the rank of professor emeritus (2.5%) or were heads of departments, deans or chairpersons (1.5%).

Participants came from all but six of the 112 universities targeted. An average of six participants represented each university. The majority (56%) of participants said they had worked as journalists for more than seven years. One-fifth had no experience as journalists, 10% had between one-to-three years of experience, and 13% had between four-to-six years experience. In addition, almost one-third of participants (32%) said they had no experience covering trauma-related events, and one-fifth said they had only minimal experience covering trauma. About 30% said they had some experience, and 18% said they had quite a lot of experience covering trauma.

Qualitative Interviews of Educators

Faculty members who completed the survey were invited to participate in a follow-up qualitative interview that allowed researchers to further understand how trauma journalism is taught, what resources are being used, what the impediments to progress are, and whether university professors are willing to, and felt capable of, teaching the topic. Twenty-two faculty members agreed to participate in the qualitative interviews. Most participants (16) were males and Caucasian (17). Two participants were African-American, two Asian-American and one Hispanic-American. The research team conducted a thematic analysis of the gathered data. Unlike the survey results, the interview results were not statistically generalizable but were intended to generate insights and add nuance to the survey findings.

Analysis of Curricula
The study also analyzed syllabi and curricular material submitted by some of the surveyed faculty. In total, 22 participants submitted curricular materials for review. Numerous faculty wanted to responded to our request to submit curricular material but most did not have any substantive material to offer. Many noted they introduced trauma topics during discussions or lectures without allocating specific instructions or literature about them in the syllabi. The submitted content was analyzed on several levels and focused on finding similar and unique approaches to teaching trauma in the classroom. First, course titles were analyzed to see how educators framed their courses. This helped determine whether educators saw trauma journalism education as a stand-alone topic, or as part of a larger, more general journalism course. Second, course overview, introduction, or mission statements were examined by examining common ideas and approaches and searching for common underlying themes as well as unique and original approaches. Unlike the survey results, the results of the qualitative curricular analysis were not statistically generalizable.

Qualitative Interviews of Journalists
Over the course of three months, from March-May 2008, ICMPA interviewed 23 reporters, editors and photographers at newspapers, and radio and television stations. Respondents were selected by reference to the Dart Center database of journalists, ICMPA peer networking, and Internet searches. The research team initially contacted the participants via email, and then conducted the interviews via follow-up phone calls or emails. The sample included nine females and 14 males. Nineteen participants held a degree in journalism, while four did not. Six of the participants had one-to-five years of journalism experience, while four participants had 6-to-10, and 13 participants had more than 11 years experience. Most participants worked in print, one participant in radio, one in television and one in new media. Almost all participants were Caucasian (22), and one was Arab-American. The participants were asked 10 open-ended questions dealing with their experience in covering trauma and violence; how their experiences had affected them; how much their academic or professional training prepared them to deal with this kind of coverage; what their academic training could have done better; and what they believed are the best ways journalism training in covering violence could help them and other journalists in their work. The gathered information was analyzed and synthesized. Unlike the survey results, the results of the qualitative interviews with journalists were not statistically generalizable.


Dr. Jad Melki: Project Director Jad
Jad Melki, Ph.D., the research director of ICMPA and a faculty member at the Salzburg Academy, is an assistant professor of journalism and media studies at the American University of Beirut. Before that, Melki was a visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University and Towson University, teaching courses on research methods, media and society, media literacy, and media, war and terrorism. Melki had been a broadcast and online journalist working with US and Arab media. more information
Dr. Susan D. Moeller: Supervisor susan moeller
Susan Moeller, the director of ICMPA, is a professor of media and international affairs at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism and the School of Public Policy. Moeller was recently named a 2008 Carnegie Scholar – one of 20 Americans annually honored by the Carnegie Corporation of NY. She is author of several books including Packaging Terrorism: Co-opting the News for Politics and Profit, and Compassion Fatigue: How the Media Sell Disease, Famine, War and Death. more information
Dr. Paul Mihailidis: Researcher and Editor Paul
Paul Mihailidis, Ph.D., ICMPA’s director of media education initiatives, is an assistant professor of media studies at Hofstra University and director of the Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change. He has published articles on media literacy, global media education, journalism education, and new media influences on international education. Mihailidis currently serves on the Board of Directors of the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE).
Megan Fromm: Researcher and Editor Meg Fromm
Megan Fromm, ABD, is a research fellow at ICMPA and an adjunct professor at Towson University. She has worked as a reporter and copy editor at newspapers in Colorado and California. Megan was the youngest person ever to be awarded the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sunshine Award and the Colorado Press Association’s Friend of the First Award. Megan is currently a doctoral student at the College of Journalism at UMD. Her dissertation will focus on student press rights, scholastic journalism and citizenship.
Shuling Huang: Researcher Shuling Huang

Shuling Huang is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Previously she worked for a leading newspaper in Taiwan as a reporter and copy editor for six years. Her research interests include cultural studies, immigrant studies and media globalization, with a focus on Greater China.


Special thanks to Dr. Meg Spratt and her students from the University of Washington, who contributed to the success of this project and offered help and suggestions throughout the process.