What Journalists Said

Twenty-three reporters, editors and photographers at newspapers, radio and television stations were interviewed about the merits of teaching journalism students how to cover violent events and report on trauma.

Most of the journalists confirmed that covering traumatic events affected them on various levels.

Journalists said that memories of covering trauma were ever-present, were not easily suppressed, and were frequently re-triggered by routine events. One journalist characterized covering trauma as adding “an additional level of stress on top of the daily deadline stress.” Another said, “I see it as building bricks as you go along. Each one is laid in there, and you can either wall off your emotions or your emotions come crumbling down.” Yet another journalist who spent time profiling victims of 9/11 said she eventually would think to herself, “Oh my God, I just don’t want to get up today.”

Journalists believed trauma training was essential, but that today’s journalism education did not offer enough training to students entering the profession.

While most respondents said training journalists about how to cover trauma is essential, many were skeptical about the effectiveness of current journalism curricula and believed that the academic training that was available was insufficient.

Several noted that many of the courses they took in college did not help them at all and suggested changing the traditional approach to journalism education. None had a clear idea about how to change journalism education to incorporate in how to cover traumatic events.

Most journalists believed that journalism students needed to be taught how to approach victims. In their minds, that was a higher priority than teaching the students how to protect themselves.

A few of the journalists believed that journalism students could not be taught in classrooms about how to cover violence and trauma. Those journalists believed experience was the best teacher, as long as news organizations could support their journalists with resources, counseling, and professional perspective. Tight budgets, a lack of awareness and a stoic culture were cited as the key obstacles to professional trauma training.

Journalists believed that newsrooms’ struggles for survival made it difficult for management to justify the development of ongoing trauma journalism training programs.

But most of those journalists who were interviewed also felt that their editors and other managers were either not sufficiently aware of the dangers of trauma coverage or simply did not care. As one journalist put it, “The survival of the industry is a priority. The survival of the people working for that industry is not.”

A few of those interviewed rejected the need to teach journalism students how to deal with tragedy. To those journalists, such training rubbed against the stoic culture of the typical newsroom. As one respondent said, “if you can’t learn to cope with these things, trauma journalism may not be the right profession for you.” Yet quite of few of the journalists interviewed admitted that many of their colleagues are hurting and suppressing personal issues related to covering trauma.

Disclaimer: unlike the survey results, the results of this qualitative section may not be generalizable beyond the opinions of those interviewed.