Journalists need support and self-care when reporting injuries

AHCJ Board President Felice Freire addresses the audience at HJ23, “Journalists and Trauma. during the survivor’s guide session. (Photo by Zahari Linhares)

A global pandemic, endless mass shootings, heartbreaking patient stories, the opioid epidemic, life-endangering legislation…there is no shortage of traumatic stories in the news every day, and the reporters who report them suffer secondary trauma from that reporting. .

The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma has been promoting ethical trauma reporting and helping journalists process trauma for more than two decades, but the concept of trauma-informed reporting and self-care in journalism has been slow to catch on in the field. .

At Health Journalism 2023 in St. Louis, Felice Freire, AHCJ board president and health reporter at the Boston Globe, moderated a panel focused on how journalists can recognize their trauma and take steps to protect themselves. mental health. Naseem Miller, senior health editor at The Journalist’s Resource and former Orlando Sentinel reporter who covered the Pulse nightclub mass shooting, spoke first about trauma and self-care.

“I was never trauma-educated, and there were no protocols to cover these tragedies,” she said. After seeing how the report and the one-year anniversary affected her and others, Miller started a Facebook group for journalists covering injuries and has since become passionate about raising awareness about the well-being of journalists.

Miller discussed trauma-informed journalism, which includes understanding how trauma affects people, and what we as journalists can do to reduce harm in our interviews and reporting. Trauma-informed journalism also protects the mental health of journalists, as research has shown that our work can affect our mental health and even contribute to anxiety and PTSD.

Miller offered tips for recognizing when you’re in trouble and what you can do to help yourself, reminding attendees:

Signs of anxiety.

  • Can’t concentrate
  • Constantly on edge
  • Can’t feel sympathy for your sources
  • Can’t sleep
  • Turning to alcohol to cope with how you feel?

What can you do?

  • Exercises.
  • Eat well.
  • Build good relationships and support systems.
  • Create boundaries in the workplace.
  • Take breaks, often.
  • Find hobbies that make you happy and allow you to disconnect from work.

Miller also cited a study by another panelist, Matthew Pearson, an assistant professor of journalism and communication at Carleton University in Ottawa. Pearson shared the results of a survey of more than 1,200 Canadian journalists during the pandemic. Its Taking Care report found that more than half of respondents feel overwhelmed and find it difficult to take a break during the working day.

One surprising finding was that 69% of media workers experience regular anxiety, compared to 25% of Canadians overall. Additionally, 28% of media workers have been clinically diagnosed with anxiety, compared to just 2.6% of Canadians. Similarly, 21% of media workers have been clinically diagnosed with depression, compared to 4.7% of Canadians.

However, 90% of journalists who responded to the survey said they had never received training on how to report on trauma while in journalism school. Pearson also addressed the concept of moral injury, which is more often discussed in the health care field, but can also arise in journalism. Moral injury occurs when a person’s conscience or moral compass is damaged by witnessing, performing, or failing to prevent an act that violates their own moral or ethical values ​​or code of conduct.

Pearson offered several suggestions for solving these problems.

  • Improve education and training.
  • Improve culture and work/life balance.
  • Establish protocols to protect health.
  • Review the alcohol.
  • Run peer support programs.
  • Improve and expand benefits.
  • Look for employee input.

Desiree Hill, an assistant professor at the University of Central Oklahoma who covered the Oklahoma City bombing, then discussed what she learned as she wrote her dissertation on the experiences of journalists covering the tragedy. Hill specifically focused on the “support circles” that journalists need and can rely on when reporting on traumatic events and stories.

Support ranges can include peer support from other reporters, supervisory support from editors and other supervisors, and departmental support, such as individuals from other departments offering to answer phones, deliver meals, and offer other ways to help reporters during a traumatic event.

Hill also discussed simple ways people can provide support: listening, telling someone it’s okay, helping with a task, congregating, and providing quiet spaces. It’s also important to think about those who don’t have natural support mechanisms so you can identify those people and offer specific ways to help and support them, Hill said. It’s especially helpful to practice nonjudgmental listening, ask people how you can help if you’re not sure, and make specific gestures instead of vague suggestions without following through.

Hill also made suggestions about what newsrooms and journalism organizations can do to improve support;

  • Provide injury support materials upon hiring.
  • Provide trauma educators.
  • Don’t forget staff/peers who may not be getting support.
  • More training on peer (and self-care) support
  • Frequent training (yearly)

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