International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

MEDIAWATCH

Posted 1 April 1999 in StressPoints by Frank M. Ochberg, MD., Contributing editor, media

Reporting in the January/February 1999 issue of the American Journalism Review, Sherry Ricchiardi finds, "Covering tragedy can create immense psychological stress for journalists. Sometimes it makes sense to get help."

Interviews with a dozen media professionals who witnessed crime scenes, battle deaths, and autopsy photographs reveal a willingness to admit symptoms of primary and secondary traumatic stress disorder. However, the newsroom culture remains stoic and open discussion of emotional distress is rare.

"For those in the news gathering business, seeking professional help can be perilous ... It may even spark editors to pull them off important projects or move them to softer assignments," writes Ricchiardi.

This reminds me of the situation in police departments and public schools 20 years ago. Little was said on the job after a suicide, disaster, or any unexpected tragedy. Now every school has a plan for posttraumatic counseling and law enforcement agencies have manditory stress evaluations after certain shooting incidents. But this took time, enlightened leadership, and self-awareness.

Obviously, a clash of values and traditions can have demoralizing effects upon a workplace. Media organizations are changing dramatically in size, shape, and demographics. Fifty years ago there were no women in British journalism and few in America or Australia. Now the gender ratio of new hires is 50-50. Many editors of large papers and news directors of large TV stations welcome mental health counsel, but middle management often retains the traditional macho orientation.

To consider these issues with ISTSS members, Ricchiardi and two distinguished sources for her article will attend the ISTSS 15th Annual Conference in November. Chris Cramer is the international news director of CNN. When he worked for the BBC, he was held hostage during an embassy siege. Rick Bragg won a Pulitzer Prize as a war correspondent for The New York Times. Neither wants to discuss personal issues, but both want to help define a research agenda that ultimately will benefit the traumatized journalist. Times, they are a changin'.