Obstacles and Needs

What are the obstacles that impede teaching journalism students in US universities how to cover violence?

What do educators recommend to enhance and promote the teaching of covering violence, victims and trauma?

Most educators mentioned three main obstacles to teaching trauma journalism: Time, resources, and lack of interest.  

1. Lack of time: Many instructors said the numerous basic journalism skills they had to teach and the little time they had to spare hindered efforts to include more trauma journalism topics. One educator noted, “It’s a triumph just to get our students to write coherent, well-researched articles.” Classes addressing trauma journalism were forced to “take a back seat to the basics,” he said.

2.  Lack of resources: Some instructors complained that materials needed to prepare trauma journalism courses and lectures were not readily available, were too scattered, and required too much time and effort to prepare.

3.  Lack of interest: Several instructors believed that many of their peers and administrators were not interested in advancing trauma journalism in the curriculum. Many educators even suggested that the topic was “quite a turn off” to students.

A lack of materials has also hampered educators’ efforts to teach students how to cover violence and trauma. 

The resources instructors said they had the most difficulty finding were (in order): Exercises and materials for role-play or student projects, trauma survivors as guest speakers, field trip sites relevant to the understanding of trauma’s history and lasting effects, and textbooks.

Instructors had an easier time tracking down online resources, other university departments, organizations, centers and associations with ties to the subject, and instructors and experts on trauma.

Instructors cited three institutions as the most common resources they use, but even those three were not widely known or used.

The top institution cited as a resource for trauma journalism was the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, but only 32 participants out of 623 mentioned it. The Poynter institute came in second (16 participants), and the American Red Cross (12 participants) came in third.

The educators’ recommendations focused on six needs:

1.  An easily accessible central place for curricular resources: Seventy-nine instructors said they needed resources that could be used by teachers with various expertise, in various classes, and at different levels. They wanted syllabi, sample course descriptions, lesson plans, and web modules. The central place would be a “clearinghouse for the distribution of sample course descriptions, resources and exercises to faculty,” and a place to “list what other teachers are doing,” and offer materials “more accessible to teachers who have little or no trauma experience.”

2.  Video and Multimedia Resources: The second most common (46 participants) suggestion to improve trauma journalism education involved the production of short educational films or documentaries, and the creation of multimedia and online tools where students learn “how to present trauma stories in multimedia packages.”

3.  Textbooks and Chapters: The third most common (34 participants) suggestion advocated the publication of textbooks on trauma journalism and including chapters about the topic in standard journalism textbooks.

4.  Easier Access to Experts and Speakers: Several instructors asked for easier access to speakers, experts and trauma victims through readily available contact lists and through the “funding of a handful of experts who can fly around the country and speak in classes.”

5.  Conferences, Workshops and an Awareness Campaign: Other recommendations included conferences, seminars, training sessions and workshops targeting educators rather than journalists, and a campaign to raise awareness among educators about the importance of trauma journalism.