Psychological scars – The downside of life as a journalist | DW's international conference: Global Media Forum. | DW | 22.01.2015
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Psychological scars – The downside of life as a journalist

Natural disasters, violence and suffering are part and parcel of the media business and day-to-day editorial work, but how to cope with that emotionally is all too often neglected in journalism.

The Dart Centre Europe for Journalism and Trauma is a workshop partner at this year’s Global Media Forum in Bonn, Germany. We talked with Gavin Rees, Diector of Dart Center Europe, about their work.

Whether reporting from war zones, covering school shootings or mass tragedies, news correspondents increasingly find themselves in the midst of the action, witnessing the worst things that can happen to other human beings. The world’s craving for fast, gripping images requires that reporters take ever greater risks – often with a severe psychological impact. The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, a globally active network, was founded in the late 1990s by mental health experts and journalists in the United States. The organization sees itself as a forum for ethical, sensitive and informed reporting on tragedy and violence, and provides training support for journalists and newsrooms that cover violence and conflict.

Gavin Rees, Director Dart Center Europe

Gavin Rees, Director Dart Center Europe

“Sometimes reporters tap into our resources because they are wrestling with the ethics,” says Gavin Rees, Director of Dart Centre Europe, based in London. “For instance, ‘how do I interview a mother who lost a child in a knife attack without making it worse for her?’ Sometimes journalists are looking for advice on how to handle the toxic impact this work can have on their own lives,” notes Rees. “Professionalism requires that journalists are informed about the impact of trauma and take steps to protect themselves,”says program coordinator Jeanny Gering ”a journalist who becomes progressively debilitated by the impact of traumatic stress won’t be in a place to produce their best work.”Another aspect is that journalists themselves are increasingly becoming targets of attacks. Whereas until recently they had been mainly observers and chroniclers, they are now among the actual victims of violence, as the IS video beheadings and the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris have made brutally clear.

Dart Centre Europe will conduct a practical workshop at the Global Media Forum in Bonn, Germany, focusing on the practice of "trauma-sensitive" journalism, such as conducting interviews with refugees. Jeanny Gering explains the concept behind trauma-sensitive reporting. “Some knowledge of the psychology of trauma can help a journalist produce better reporting. Witnesses have not always seen what they believe they have seen. Journalists need to know that trauma can affect memory”, she says.“What is more, journalists involved in refugee reporting need to be aware of the impact their reporting can have on the people they are writing about.”

The Dart Centre helps connect aspects of professional journalism with trauma psychology, says director Rees. “We are part think-tank, part training organization and part network. Our resources come out of dialogue with journalists who have pioneered innovative ways of meeting these challenges, and other trauma professionals, such as psychologists and people in the military, whose expertise runs parallel to our reporting and can help fill in some of the gaps. The aim is both to increase the resilience of journalists and to foster more insightful journalism of a kind that might help the public, indeed any of us, better navigate tragic situations.”

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