International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

MEDIA MATTERS

Posted 1 July 1998 in StressPoints by Frank M Ochberg, MD, Contributing Editor, Media

Alexander "Sandy" McFarlane, ISTSS president-elect and Adelaide, Australia native, served as a judge for the Dart Award for Excellence in Reporting on Victims of Violence presented in East Lansing, Michigan in June.

After serving on a panel with three professional journalists and one victim advocate, McFarlane felt the experience changed his perspective on dealing with the media. He explained that though his work as an international trauma expert brings him into frequent contact with reporters, his concern for privacy of clients and dignity of victims causes him to speak in generalities, avoiding personal details.

"Now I realize it is precisely those details -- the source of good clinical case histories and the source of good newspaper stories -- that must be told," McFarlane says.

McFarlane's participation in selecting the winner of the $10,000 award brings, for the first time in its five-year history, a cross-cultural dimension to this annual event.

Australian and American media-watchers express concern about yellow journalism, pandering to prurient interests, and blurring the boundary between news and entertainment.

"Rupert Murdoch comes from my home town," notes McFarlane at a dinner for Dart judges.

But Mike Lloyd, editor of the Grand Rapids Press, observed that readers spend less than 12 minutes with their daily paper, skip most articles, and skim the rest. A journalist must attract a reader in the first
column-inch and hold that reader with a compelling story.

To reach the average reader in America or Australia, a reporter must reveal those personal, private details that are at once interesting and educational -- a lesson that Murdoch understands and McFarlane learned in June.

Trauma clinicians who serve as sources for the media can help patients as well as the profession by mastering the art of telling the trauma story while protecting privacy.

The Dart Award was presented to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for its series, "Children of the Underground." Outstanding photography and reporting illustrated the secret network that shelters boys and girls who escape from sexual abuse at home.

"By its very nature, this is a story where people want to hide from public view," says Eric Freedman, Dart judge.

All judges agreed that the winning entry allowed victims of violence to tell their stories with dignity, sensitivity, and respect.

For more information visit http://www.journalism.msu.edu/victims.html.