International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

Reporters' Traumatic Stress Often Overlooked in Studies

Posted 1 October 1999 in StressPoints by Frank M Ochberg, MD, Contributing Editor, Media

Many scholars have regarded victims of the media as those people whose lives are touched in a significant way by an event or episode that attracts the media's attention. To date research has focused on how victims of crime, especially victims of sex crimes and murders, have been affected by the re-traumatization of media exposure. But researchers neglected to realize that in covering these stories journalists themselves often become trauma victims.

Professor Roger Simpson and James Boggs showed that journalists are "strikingly similar to public-safety workers in both their experiences and their emotional responses" (Journalism & Communication Monographs, Spring 1999). Simpson and Boggs concluded that news organizations will need to "find ways for journalists, like front-line workers in emergency and public-safety work, to recover from the wounds of their work" (Spring 1999).

An Australian investigation project aims to replicate the American study, and examine the impact of these traumatic episodes on the lives of the storytellers, the journalists and other media persons, who supply news from the battle front, the accident site, the flood or fire. This research is part of the Victims of the Media program based at Queensland University of Technology's School of Media & Journalism and is co-directed by journalism professor Cratis Hippocrates and psychology professor Gary Embelton. The program has developed partnerships in Sydney, with Professor Clem Lloyd (University of Wollongong) and in Adelaide, with Ian Richards, head of journalism at the University of South Australia.

The Australian program is part of an innovative international collaboration with three American universities: Michigan State University, the University of Washington (Seattle) and the University of Central Oklahoma. The Dart Foundation, based at Michigan State, brought together the four universities to support victims and media issues. University of Washington Professor Roger Simpson oversees this effort.

Since the March 1998 launch of the Victims of Trauma and the Media program at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, trauma issues in the newsroom have received widespread media coverage in Australia. The coverage is enhanced by training for journalists in universities and the workplace, systematic scientific research and the development of victims and media response teams.

Embelton and Hippocrates also recently developed a series of workshops titled "Managing Trauma in the Newsroom," aimed at editors, section editors, news editors, chiefs of staff and managing editors. Topics include peer supervision and post-trauma debriefing.

After a year's experience in Australia, similar workshops will be offered in the United States with the help of colleagues in partner institutions.

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Our ISTSS colleague, Cratis Hippocrates, is the former chair of Queensland University, Technology School of Journalism and remains as adjunct professor. He's on the Internet at http://www.maj.arts.qut.edu.au/PJ/links/links.html; and his e-mail address is chippocrates@fairfax.com.au.

Meet him next March in Melbourne, when the Third World Conference for the ISTSS will host the first Australian Dart Award for Excellence in Reporting on Victims of Violence.