Report on Ground Zero
Elana Newman, Ph.D., a University of Tulsa associate professor of psychology, and Barbara Monseu, a Denver investment consultant who as a school district official had coordinated responses to students, families and staff following the April 1999 Columbine High School shooting, went to New York City for the Dart Center in December 2002. For more than six months they directed Dart Center Ground Zero (DCGZ). Their goal: To link journalists affected by the attacks to emotional, technical and physical support resources.These three articles review the achievements of that project, which was funded by a grant from the Dart Foundation. They are drawn from the project report, written by Monseu and Newman, and from interviews with Newman.
Elana Newman, Ph.D., a University of Tulsa associate professor of psychology, and Barbara Monseu, a Denver investment consultant who as a school district official had coordinated responses to students, families and staff following the April 1999 Columbine High School shooting, went to New York City for the Dart Center in December 2002.
For more than six months they directed Dart Center Ground Zero (DCGZ). Their goal: To link journalists affected by the attacks to emotional, technical and physical support resources.These three articles review the achievements of that project, which was funded by a grant from the Dart Foundation. They are drawn from the project report, written by Monseu and Newman, and from interviews with Newman.
Part I: Assessment & Action
When Dr. Elana Newman arrived in New York more than three months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, two things stood out.
"The generosity that I saw," Newman said; "it put me in awe."
Despite that citywide willingness to help others, Newman also saw incredible competition and duplication of post-attack trauma services.
As media outsiders, Newman and Barbara Monseu first had to identify journalists' needs. They contacted newspaper editors and reporters. Few people turned them away.
However, some journalists wanted help but felt they were too busy to pursue it. Together Newman and Monseu united overlapping resources to provide more efficient support.
For example, they realized DCGZ could complement Newscoverage Unlimited, a service provider and trainer of peer counselors among journalists. The two organizations began a partnership as the Dart Center assumed responsibility for NU services.
Newman and Monseu quickly shaped a many-faceted support center, connecting journalists and therapists while also coordinating discussion groups and one-time help sessions.
The highlight, Newman said, was a conference in May 2002 co-sponsored by New York University titled, "Reporting Post 9/11, After The Debris is Gone, What's The Story?" Newman and Monseu assembled a panel of top journalists and trauma experts, including Robert Jay Lifton, Harvard Medical School professor of psychiatry and psychology; Penny Owen, Daily Oklahoman reporter; and Jay Rosen, chair of the NYU Department of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Panel members shared suggestions for covering and recovering from trauma with a crowd of journalists. Lifton talked about how to cover apocalyptic violence without encouraging fanaticism.
Owen, who covered the Oklahoma City bombing from the explosion to Timothy McVeigh's execution, discussed the "routine of tragedy." Journalists, she said, must stay in touch with the public's post-trauma responses of memorials, grief, outreach, and anger.
"(It was) a very engaging evening," Newman said. "We had to kick everyone out eventually."
Part II: Lessons Learned
Dart Center Ground Zero successfully linked journalists to support services, Elana Newman, its co-director, said.
Maintaining those services is vital. "We need to have a continued, constant presence in the media," she said. "We need to be there to remind people how important (trauma-related) issues are."
After six-months in New York, Newman and Barbara Monseu had made far-reaching journalism connections. Partners included local journalism schools, the Foreign Press Club and the New York Academy of Medicine.
The murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and the anthrax scare emphasized DCGZ's goals. Combined with post-Sept. 11 awareness, Newman said, journalists made an important realization. "There was a major upset in the daily routine of covering the news," Newman said. "(Trauma) is becoming more of an interest in media."
New York's ethnic and community newspapers particularly impressed Newman. "They were very open to trauma education and discussion," Newman said. "We had a lot of impact (on ethnic and community papers)."
Journalists, Newman said, became much more interested in learning how to approach trauma victims with sensitivity. Reporters discussed the elements of good versus exploitative coverage. They considered how long-term trauma coverage affects victims and communities.
Another hot topic was TV reporters showing emotion, Newman said. Reporters asked each other, "Is it OK to show emotion?" Although there was no consensus, the dialogue was promising. Newman also found that the journalism environment hinders the use of in-house support services.
"The culture of journalism," she explained, "is not one of emotional support." It is essential that human resource professionals, editors and managers be involved in providing for technical and emotional support of journalists, she said.
Reporters often don't seek support in fear of being perceived as weak, Newman said, so DCGZ strived to create a "continuum of services for those who were really open and ready (to seek support) and for those who were skeptical."
Another important lesson came from observing journalists' interaction with mental therapists. "Journalists are not that skeptical of mental health people if they are approached with respect and understanding," Newman said.
She worked with therapists and journalists to create more effective collaboration. "A lot of miscommunication came from presumptuous mental health people telling journalists what to do."
Part III: Final Observations
Dr. Elana Newman, co-leader of Dart Center Ground Zero, identified various emotional and psychological responses among traumatized journalists in post-Sept. 11 New York.
First, Newman found war correspondents were stunned when their perceived safe home became a war zone. "Many of them didn't realize how difficult it was to go back (to covering war) in a conflict zone," Newman said.
International journalists, stationed in New York and isolated from colleagues after the attack, also sought and needed support services.
Student journalists on college newspapers also needed support, she noted. While journalism students usually had opportunities to talk about coverage stresses in the classroom, newspaper staffers often lacked that opportunity.
However, Newman added, "Doing good journalism is a good coping skill." Some journalists took solace in their work but didn't have time to realize they were mentally and physically exhausted. Others were directly affected by the attacks. They experienced personal loss, possibly the death of a friend or relative.
"It's difficult to be a survivor and a reporter," Newman said. "They had a double challenge." These reporters told stories of the lives lost, but Newman said the articles were essentially about dealing with their own loss. The majority of journalists did their job and moved on.
"They were distressed, they were exhausted, they had a lot of difficulty, as did most of America," Newman said, "and (the trauma) was nothing major or long-lasting."
Newman and DCGZ co-leader Barbara Monseu identified fear as a significant emotional response among reporters. The resources DCGZ provided helped address that fear. They hope more and more journalists continue to seek the Dart Center's trauma education and support resources.
"Journalists are often first on the scene," the two wrote in their DCGZ report, "yet their emotional needs are by-and-large ignored."
"Because journalists work so hard after crises or long-term breaking news stories," Newman added, "it isn't until much later that they have time to reflect on what happened to them."
"Journalists," she said, "need to develop skills to cover the story while taking care of their own emotional, psychological and physical needs."