Central America Trainings: Storytelling, Trauma & Self-Care
Conference: Freedom of Information Act - 50 Years Later
When the history of journalism's discovery of the importance of understanding trauma comes to be written, a place of honor will go to Dr Anthony Feinstein. A Canada-based psychiatrist originally from South Africa, Feinstein is author of what remains so far the world's most comprehensive investigation of war correspondents' experience of psychological wounding.
Feinstein's research now runs to two seminal studies, and confirmed for the first time what journalists have long known from their own and their colleagues' experience - that covering violence and tragedy over many years can cause emotional distress which for a significant minority can manifest as full-blown Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
It has been in large measure because of Feinstein's own credibility that news organisations in the United States and in Europe - notably the BBC in Britain - have begun now to invest serious money and effort in the proper training of journalists, managers and editors in the coverage and personal experience of news-related trauma.
As Feinstein describes in the summary of his first research project, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in September 2002 and developed subsequently in his book Dangerous Lives, no-one appeared previously ever to have investigated in any serious scientific way the personal experience of trauma on the part of reporters who cover violence and tragedy.
That first research involved questionnaires distributed to 170 mainly English-speaking correspondents, camera operators and producers in America and Europe. An impressive 140 responded, and Feinstein followed that up with one-to-one interviews with 28 of that number chosen at random. The average lifetime experience of covering war and disaster among this group was 14 years.
Feinstein also investigated the experience of a 107-strong control group in a domestic Canadian newsroom context, confirming that reporters and especially photographers who cover war are significantly more likely during their careers to develop symptoms of chronic emotional distress, ranging from depression and anxiety to alcohol and drug abuse, relationship breakdown and full-scale PTSD.
Feinstein recently published follow-up research (Journal of Traumatic Stress, Vol 18, Issue 2, 2005) exploring whether the process of "embedding" journalist with fighting troops during the 2003 Iraq war affected their vulnerability to psychological distress.
Eighty-five of 100 journalists approached agreed to participate, of whom just under half were embedded. Feinstein found that in terms of PTSD , depression, psychological distress, and drug and alcohol abuse, there were no differences between embedded and unilateral (non-embedded) journalists.
However, based on General Health Questionnaire scores, Feinstein did find that one third of all journalists were psychologically distressed.
Feinstein's conclusions - cogently, accessibly and engagingly presented both in his research papers and his book - have had a profound impact on understandings and awareness of trauma within the news industry, not only in the English-speaking world but increasingly in Europe, Australasia and Africa.
Explicitly using his findings to make the case for culture change, the BBC, Reuters and CNN, for example, have all begun to develop and implement formal trauma training and support for their news staff.
When children are victims of violence, journalists have a responsibility to report the truth with compassion and sensitivity.
A 40-page guide to help journalists, photojournalists and editors report on violence while protecting both victims and themselves. Click here for a Ukrainian translation.
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