Returning From Newtown: How Journalists Leave a Tragedy
By Elana Newman
For journalists returning from Newtown, tips on coping with their experience and the expectations of others to explain it.
Tips for Journalists Returning Home After Covering the Shooting
Stories involving the deaths of children can be very upsetting even to journalists who regularly cover crime, conflict and other tragedies. Many experienced journalists are telling Dart Center staff that coming home this time feels different. More people than usual are asking them questions. There is a greater sense of curiosity from colleagues, families and friends. The Dart Center has compiled the following tips to help journalists upon returning from Newtown:
1. Prepare for questions from your co-workers, friends and family.
a) Have a polite response ready, such as:
i. "I appreciate your interest but right now I really want to focus on doing other work right now.”
ii. "It was tough, but I was glad to contribute to accurate reporting of this terrible event.”
b) Consider if you want to do a lessons learned seminar in the newsroom for colleagues to discuss your experience with everyone at once. Include support staff if possible as they are affected by this event too.
2. Recognize your limits. Set boundaries if you need them.
a) Don't over-schedule the first days after your return, whether it is a work day or a day off.
b) You may want to talk about it, you may not. If not, let people know.
i. “Right now I need a little distance from it, but I appreciate you checking on me.”
ii. “Several people have wanted to talk with me about it today and I think I have reached my limit for today. I really want to focus on other things right now.
iii. “Thanks. . I will let you know if I feel ready to talk more.”
c) Choose who you want to talk in detail with.
d) Close your office door if possible.
3. Monitor your own reactions around your partner and kids
a) Let your partner know that this may not be something you are ready to share as a parent right now.
b) Examine if you have changed your engagement with your children. Notice if you are more clingy or more distant than usual.
4. Remember that people are responding to you out of curiosity, caring, and/or their own distress.
Experiences involving the death of children are particularly upsetting for family members, rescue workers and the community. The story may resonate particularly for parents who can imagine what it would be like if it were their own children. The younger the victims, themore upsetting the feelings can be.
Perhaps the word is getting out that journalists need support after potentially harrowing assignments and people are trying to be helpful.
Perhaps the holiday season is making others more reactive and/or responsive. The themes of family, community, unity, good will, charity, and connection can make people both more engaged by the story and more giving towards others.
Elana Newman, McFarlin Professor of Psychology at the University of Tulsa, has conducted research on a variety of topics regarding the psychological and physical response to traumatic life events, assessment of PTSD in children and adults, journalism and trauma, and understanding the impact of participating in trauma-related research from the trauma survivor's perspective.