Covering Local Tragedies
Ochberg Fellowship Program
The nightmares began for one reporter after reading dozens of gruesome fatality reports about babies who had been suffocated, starved or beaten to death.
The sight of a child’s shoe lying in the rubble of a plane crash haunted a photographer years later.
Children’s innocence makes their suffering all the more disturbing. Journalists who write about violence don’t escape unscathed. We are at risk for post-traumatic stress. It can hit after a couple of years spent covering the child-welfare beat and writing countless stories about abused kids. Or it can be triggered by one horrifying event.
Former Fresno TV news reporter Allison Ash covered the slaughter of nine people at a local home in March 2004. Most of the victims were kids. Afterward, she was interviewed for a story in the Fresno Bee. She told the reporter she had trouble sleeping. And she had trouble getting away from the story because strangers who recognized her would corner her in the grocery store to talk about the murders. One thing that helped Ash cope was reaching out to other reporters and photographers—and even a police officer—at the scene to acknowledge the horror of the event. Hugs were offered, tears were shed. “As for reporters with children, we did what we always do—went home and hugged our children,” Ash said.
Other coping strategies include:
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The Dart Center is a project of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.