TRAUMA REPORTING & RECOVERY

When we think of journalists afflicted with PTSD, our minds often turn to the men and women working in war zones. But you don’t have to be a war correspondent to suffer from post-traumatic stress. For local journalists, creating content amid traumatic events means exposure to much more low level trauma can build and over time lead to occupational PTSD. Telling the stories of the pandemic’s impact is a privilege, but constant immersion in the difficult stories of devastation and loss can wear on those tasked with communicating that information. And reporting on a highly-infectious global pandemic can be especially daunting. In war, you don’t bring the enemy home with you. While covering a pandemic you can and it can kill indiscriminately. Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at Columbia University has been studying these effects for 20 years. Today, DART is working with journalists around the globe to help them to better understand the long term damage immersion into traumatic events can have on journalists and how to prevent it.

Aired on May 11, 2020. 

TRANSCRIPT

HI, UNDERSTANDING THE EFFECTS OF THE PANDEMIC BOTH COUUMULATI AND INDIVIDUAL ARE DAUBTINTING SAT LEAST.

A CONSTANT FLOOD OF INFORMATION IS A LOT FOR THE PUBLIC TO DIGEST.

FOR JOURNALISTS, TELLING THE STORY OF THE PANDEMIC'S IMPACT IS A HONOR AND PRIVILEGE.

BUT CONSTANTLY BEING IMMERSED IN STORIES OF DEVASTATION AND LOSS CAN HAVE A CUMULATIVE INFECT ON THOSE TASKS WITH COMMUNICATING THAT INFORMATION.

THAT'S WHY ROUGE SCHAPIRO, DIRECTOR OF THE DARK CENTER FOR JOURNALISM AND TRAUMA AT COLOMBIA UNIVERSITY IS STUDYING THE INFECTS OF REPORTING ON CRISIS FOR 20 YEARS.

HE JOINS ME NOW.

BRUCE, WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

VERY GLAD TO BE HERE.

THANK YOU.

SO FIRST I WANT TO START AND SAY THAT JOURNALISTS, OF COURSE, WE'RE TRAINED TO NOT MAKE OURSELVES THE CENTER OF THE STORY AT ALL.

BUT THIS WAS SOMETHING THAT YOU FOUND WAS NOT BEING LOOKED AT AND WAS WORTH STUDYING.

I WONDER IF YOU CAN EXPLAIN WHY TRAUMA AND JOURNALISM?

SURE, FIRST OF ALL, A HUGE AMOUNT OF THE NEWS IS THE MOST DISTRESSING EXPERIENCES IN LIFE, WHETHER IT IS FAMILY VIOLENCE, STREET CRIME, WAR, DISASTER, INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS.

THESE ARE BIG DISRUPTIONS IN THE SOCIAL FABRIC.

AND NATURALLY DO COUNT AS NEWS.

PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THEM.

AND THE JOB OF JOURNALISTS IS TO GO TOWARD EVENTS THAT OTHER PEOPLE WOULD RUN AWAY FROM.

OR TO LOOK TOWARDS EVENTS THAT OTHER PEOPLE MIGHT LOOK AWAY FROM.

AND THAT'S THE JOB.

WHILE WE'RE ASKING AND A LOT OF PEOPLE ASKED OVER TIME HOW CAN JOURNALISTS REPORT SENSITIVELY EFFECTIVELY, ETHICALLY ON SURVIVORS OF VIOLENCE?

WE ALSO NEED TO BE ASKING WHAT ABOUT THE IMPACT OF COVERING A STEADY DIET OF DIFFICULT EVENTS?

CAR WRECKS, MURDER TRIALS, ORDINARY DAY TO DAY EVENTS ON NEWS PROFESSIONALS?

WHAT ABOUT THE IMPACT OF COVERING OVERWHELMING BIG INTERNATIONAL STORIES AND 9/11, WAR ON JOURNALISTS?

WE STARTED ASKING THESE QUESTIONS TWO YEARS AGO.

WE WANT JOURNALISTS TO BE SENSITIVE TO TRAUMA IN THE WORLD BUT TO DO THAT JOB, WE ALSO NEED TO BE AWARE OF HOW TRAUMA MAY AFFECT US AS PROFESSIONALS.

YOU GOT INTO IT A LITTLE BIT.

WHAT IS INTERESTING AS I WAS LOOKING INTO OR RESEARCHING ABOUT THE SUBJECT OF TRAUMA AND JOURNALISM, SO MUCH ATTENTION IS -- AND VERY RIGHTLY SO, FOCUSSED TO JOURNALIST THAT'S COVER WAR ZONES.

BUT YOUR RESEARCH HAS FOUND THAT YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE IN A WAR ZONE AFFECTED BY CONSTANTLY BEING IN CONTACT WITH PEOPLE IN CRISIS.

WELL, ABSOLUTELY.

LOCAL JOURNALISTS ARE ACTUALLY EXPOSED AT A VERY HIGH LEVEL.

TO ASSUME AN DISTRESS AND SUFFERING AND TRAUMA.

I THINK BACK TO THE BEGINNING OF MY OWN CAREER, THE VERY FIRST STORY I COVERED AS A YOUNG REPORTER IS ABOUT THE DEATH OF A YOUNG WOMAN ABOUT MY OWN AGE AND APARTMENT BUILDING IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD.

AND AT THAT TIME THERE WAS NO ONE AROUND TO SAY HERE'S HOW YOU TALK TO FAMILY OR NEIGHBORS.

HERE'S WHAT YOU MAY EXPERIENCE.

WITHIN A COUPLE YEARS OF BEING A LOCAL REPORTER IN THE 1980s, NOT SOMEONE THAT NATURALLY RAN TOWARD MAYHEM, I HAD INTERVIEWED VIETNAM VETERANS AND HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS, I HAD REPORTED ON THE IMPACT OF AGENT ORANGE, HAD BEEN AT THE SCENE OF HIGHWAY BRIDGE COLLAPSES.

ALL OF US HAVE BEEN LOCAL REPORTERS ARE EXPOSED TO A LOT OF TOUGH STUFF THAT MAY INVOLVE PEOPLE WHO LOOK LIKE US, LIVE IN THE SAME TOWN OR COMMUNITY WE DO, WHO ARE AT THE SAME POINT IN LIFE ORDEAL WITH THE SAME ISSUES.

AND THAT ALL THE RESEARCH THAT'S BEEN DONE OVER THE LAST 20 YEARS CAN TAKE A TOLL.

JUST AS CAN YOU AS COVERING LARGE SCALE INTERNATIONAL CRISIS.

ONE OF THE BIG CHALLENGES IN TALKING TO JOURNALISTS ABOUT THIS ISSUES IS THAT SOMETIMES LOCAL REPORTERS MAY NOT THINK THAT THEIR OWN EXPOSURE TO TRAUMA IS WORTHY COMPARED TO INTERNATIONAL WAR CORRESPONDENTS.

AND THE REALITY IS IT'S JUST AS CONSEQUENTIAL.

THERE ARE RATES OF PTSD AND OTHER KINDS OF DISTRESS IN JOURNALIST THAT'S ARE COMPARABLE TO FIRST RESPONDERS.

WE'RE RESILIENT TRIBE.

WE AS JOURNALISTS.

OUR WORK IS PROTECTED.

OUR MISSION HELPS US DEAL WITH IT.

WHAT TO DO IN THE FACE OF DISTRESS.

KEEPS US RESILIENT.

HAVING ETHICS AND COLLEAGUES PROTECT US.

BUT THERE IS A COST.

JOURNALISTS CAN BE AFFECTED AND PROFOUND WAYS OR EVEN SIDE LINED BY PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAUMA, WHETHER THAT IS A MASSIVE SINGLE CRISIS LIKE 9/11 OR THAT STEADY DRIP, DRIP, DRIP OF DISTRESSING AND TOXIC CONTENT THAT LOCAL REPORTERS OR EVEN ONLINE CURATORS MAY EXPERIENCE.

I'M SPEAKING WITH BRUCE SCHAPIRO FROM COLOMBIA UNIVERSITY.

I THOUGHT IT WAS VERY INTERESTING THAT YOU SAID THAT JOURNALISTS WOULD ALSO FIT INTO FIRST RESPONDERS ALTHOUGH WE'RE NOT NECESSARILY DOING THE SAME THINGS THAT POLICE AND FIREFIGHTERS AND EMS WORKERS ARE.

BUT THERE DOES SEEM TO BE A SIMILAR ETHOS OF, YOU KNOW, GET ON IT WITH, IF YOU WILL.

SO THAT SOMETIMES WHEN YOU DO COVER TRAUMATIC STORIES THERE ISN'T A FULL PROCESSING OF WHAT IT WAS THAT WAS JUST EXPERIENCED.

WELL, IN -- WE ARE LIKE FIRST RESPONDERS IN THE SENSE THAT IT IS OUR JOB TO GO TOWARD DANGER OR GO TOWARD DISTRESS.

PUBLIC NEEDS US TO BE EYES AND EARS ON SCENE.

THE PUBLIC NEEDS US TO BE THE CHANNEL FOR INFORMATION.

NEEDS PHOTOJOURNALISTS TO BE COLLECTING IMAGES.

SO THERE IS -- WHETHER OR NOT WE'RE PATCHING PEOPLE'S WOUNDS, WE ARE IN THAT SENSE FOR FIRST RESPONDERS, RIGHT?

THE REALITY IS THAT JOURNALISM IS A CRAFT.

WHEN YOU'RE OUT THERE DOING THE JOB, HOPEFULLY THE MUSCLES, THE TRAINING, THE SKILLS, KICK IN IN.

EVEN IN THE FACE OF A MASS SHOOTING.

EVEN IN THE FACE OF THIS PANDEMIC.

PEOPLE BRING THE CRAFT SKILLS TO WORK.

THE CHALLENGE MAY COME AFTERWARDS, REPLAYING IMAGES OR VOICES THEY CAN'T GET OUT OF THEIR HEAD OR THE BIOLOGICAL CHANGES ASSOCIATED WITH, YOU KNOW, POST TRAUMATIC TRESS DISORDER, LOSING THE ABILITY TO CONCENTRATE OR EEG ISOLATED BY THE EXTREMITY OF WHAT WE'VE SEEN FROM OTHERS.

THOSE CAN BE BIG CHALLENGES AND THERE ARE CHALLENGES OF AFTERMATH RATHER THAN THE CHALLENGES OF THE HORROR OF THE MOMENT.

YOU KNOW, WE DO OUR JOB WELL.

WHEN IT COMES TO REPORT THINGS.

BECAUSE HOW DO WE HANDLE IT AFTERWARDS?

WHAT IS THE XORVEGS WE HAVE AS A PROFESSION?

YOU SORT OF TOUCHED ON IT A LITTLE BIT.

BUT ARE THERE ANY OTHER SIGNS OR SYMPTOMS OF HOW PTSD FROM YOUR WORK HAS STUDIES, HAS FOUND OUT THAT HOW PTSD SHOWS UP IN JOURNALISM?

WELL, SO I'M A JOURNALIST, NO THE A CLINICIAN OR A NEUROSCIENCE PERSON.

BUT THERE IS SOME GOOD G.

SCIENCE ON THIS.

THE VERY MECHANISMS OF CH PSYCHOLOGICAL INJURY OF POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDERS AND OTHER THINGS, THE VERY MECHANISM THAT'S CHANGE PEOPLE PROFOUNDLY GO TO THE HEART OF WHAT WE DO AS JOURNALISTS.

SO ONE OF THE CLASSIC SYMPTOMS OF PTSD, THINGS LIKE CHANGES IN CONCENTRATION, INTRUSIVE MEMORY, LOSS OF CONNECTION OR EMPATHY.

WE RELY ON ALL OF THOSE SKILLS.

ON OUR ABILITY TO EMPATHIZE AND CONNECT WITH SOURCES, WITH THE PUBLIC, TO DO THE JOB AND SO WHEN THOSE MECHANISMS ARE INTERFERED WITH, JOURNALISTS CAN BEGIN TO SUFFER A LOT.

THEY CAN SLIP IN THEIR CAPACITY TO REPORT WELL.

THEY MAY TAKE MORE RISKS THAN THEY SHOULD.

THEY MAY HAVE DIFFICULTIES AT HOME.

THESE ARE NO DIFFERENT THAN WHAT COPS OR FIREFIGHTERS EXPERIENCE.

BUT THE CONVERSATION CAME A LITTLE LATER IN JOURNALISTS ABOUT HOW TO ACKNOWLEDGE IT AND HOW TO DEAL WITH IT WITHOUT INTERFERING WITH OUR PROFESSIONAL MISSION AND OUR DESIRE TO BE THERE FOR THE STORY.

OF COURSE.

AND THEN THERE IS ALWAYS THE WHICH I SAY COUUMULATIVE EFFECT NOT JUST FROM ONE STORY, MANY PEOPLE TALKED ABOUT THE FACT THAT WE'RE CURRENTLY IN A NEW CYCLE THAT JUST DOESN'T SEEM TO GIVE ANY BREAKS AT ALL.

THERE ARE TWO THINGS, CAREER LONG EXPOSURE, FIRST OF ALL.

WE ALL COVER A LOT OF THE STUFF OVER THE COURSE OF OUR CAREERS.

AND THEN THERE IS TREALITY OF A MOMENT.

FWHEER THE NEWS CYCLE THAT DOESN'T GIVE YOU A BREAK.

WE'RE IN A PAN DEM NICK WHICH TRADITIONAL BOUNDARIES THAT SEPARATE JOURNALISTS WORK WISE FROM OUR FAMILY LIVES, THOSE ARE ERODED IN WHICH WE'RE DEALING WITH THE SAME STRESSES OF EVERYONE ELSE BUT IN THE CONTEXT OF A HIGH STRESS PROFESSION INVOLVING DEADLINES AND NOW ECONOMIC DISRUPTION, INDUSTRY EXCHANGE, FEAR FOR OUR LIVELIHOOD.

SO THIS IS -- THIS PANDEMIC IS UNQUESTIONABLY A HIGH STRESS PERIOD FOR NEWS PROFESSIONALS ADDED TO WHICH IS THE COST OF WITNESSING.

THERE ARE SO MANY PHOTOGRAPHERS NOW WHO ARE THE WORLD'S EYES AND EARS ON THE FRONT LINES SHOWING US, ENABLING THE REST OF US TO IMAGINE THE DEGREE OF SUFFERING.

THERE CAN BE A COST TO THAT.

THERE CAN BE A COST TO JOURNALIST WHO'S ARE DEALING WITH A LOT OF ON LINE HARASSMENT AND ABUSE ALONG WITH THE NEWS CYCLE.

THERE IS SO MANY THAT IS A CHALLENGE FOR NEWS PROFESSIONALS NOW AMID WHAT IS ARGUABLY ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT MOMENTS FOR THE ROLE OF NEWS PROFESSIONALS IN OUR LIFETIMES.

THE CENTRAL ROLE THAT JOURNALISTS PLAY IN COMMUNICATING AUTHORITATIVE INFORMATION.

ENABLING THE PUBLIC TO ENVISION AND IMAGINE WHAT THIS PANDEMIC MEANS.

WE'RE ASKING JOURNALISTS TO CARRY THAT TO DO THAT JOB.

WE'RE ALSO ASKING, YOU KNOW, CARRY A COST.

BRUCE, WE'RE COMING UP ON THE END OF OUR TIME WHICH I CAN'T BELIEVE ALREADY.

BUT I'VE HEARD YOU DESCRIBE JOURNALISM AS A PUBLIC SERVICE.

AND I WAS WONDERING IN ADDITION TO, YOU KNOW, SUPPORTING PARTICULARLY LOCAL MEDIA EITHER WITH SUBSCRIPTIONS OR DONATIONS, IS THERE SOMETHING ELSE THE P PUBLIC CAN DO TO SHOW APPRECIATION?

I THINK THERE ARE SEVERAL THINGS.

FIRST OF ALL, IF YOU READ A STORY OR SEE A STORY OR HEAR A STORY THAT YOU LIKE, FIND A WAY TO ACKNOWLEDGE IT.

SHARE IT IN SOCIAL MEDIA AND ALSO FIND A WAY TO THANK THE JOURNALISTS, WHETHER IT'S WITH AN E-MAIL, A DIRECT MESSAGE OR IN PERSON.

RIGHT NOW JOURNALISTS ARE COLLEC COLLECTING A LOT OF ABUSE FROM HIGH LEVELS OF GOVERNMENT AND A LOT OF SECTORS OF POLITICAL SOCIETY.

ACKNOWLEDGING THAT WORK IS IMPORTANT.

DEFENDING THE WORK OF JOURNALISTS RIGHT NOW IS REALLY IMPORTANT.

AND UNDERSTANDING THAT THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE MEDIA, CAPITAL T AND M WHICH IS SO EASILY DEMONIZED AND THE WORK OF JOUR JOURNALISTS WHO EVERY DAY ARE TRYING TO BEAR WITNESS AND MAKING DIFFICULT CHOICES ABOUT WHICH FACTS TO PRESENT, WHOSE STORY TO TELL, HOW TO PORTRAY THESE DIFFICULT EVENTS OF OUR TIME.

UNFORTUNATELY, WE HAVE RUN OUT OF TIME.

BRUCE SCHAPIRO, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR THE DART CENTER OF JOURNALISM AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY.

THANK YOU FOR JOINING US AND STUDYING THIS EFFECT THAT I THINK EVEN JOURNALISTS PROBABLY DON'T REALLY GIVE THE ATTENTION IT SHOULD GIVE.

THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME HERE.

VERY GLAD TO BE HERE.

ABSOLUTELY.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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