About

History

The Dart Center is a global network of journalists, journalism educators and health professionals dedicated to improving media coverage of trauma, conflict and tragedy.

The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma continues a mission begun in the 1990s. In 1991 journalism faculty at Michigan State University established a small program to assist journalism students in reporting on victims of violence with sensitivity, dignity and respect, collaborating with the Michigan Victim Alliance and Frank Ochberg, M.D., a psychiatrist and pioneer in the treatment of traumatic stress.

That MSU program, the first of its kind, was funded by the Dart Foundation of nearby Mason, Mich. In 1994 the Dart Foundation established the annual Dart Award for Excellence in Reporting on Victims of Violence, at that time administered by MSU. In the mid-1990s a growing number of journalists, educators and clinicians around the country began exploring the intersection of news reporting and violence. Gradually the Dart Foundation began assisting innovative programs on victims and the media by journalism faculty in Oklahoma, Indiana, and notably the University of Washington, where journalism professor Roger Simpson developed curricula for newsroom ethics classes on covering sexual assault, domestic violence and other traumatic events.

In 1999, Simpson and the Dart Foundation established the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at the University of Washington Department of Communications as an interdisciplinary clearing house. The new Dart Center assumed responsibility for the annual Dart Awards and a rapidly-expanding portfolio of projects – fellowships, training programs, studies - linking working journalists, mental health professionals, researchers and journalism teachers.

Among the first projects initiated by the Dart Center was an annual fellowship program, bringing a small group of mid-career journalists together for a week of seminars and discussions on applying knowledge of emotional trauma to improving coverage of violent events. Past Dart Center Ochberg Fellows, along with Dart Award winners, comprise the Dart Society, an independent nonprofit organization.

In response to the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Dart Center established Dart Center Ground Zero, a six-month education and support program for New York City journalists. The Center also expanded internationally, establishing full-time nodes in Europe and Australia which each developed groundbreaking training programs for journalists and news organizations. To date the Dart Center has conducted conferences, educational programs and missions in 25 nations.

From the beginning the Dart Center has also encouraged and led research on the psychological impact of reporting traumatic events. Between 1999 and 2002, Simpson together with psychologist Elana Newman and other colleagues conducted the first peer-reviewed studies published of the occupational mental health of reporters and photographers in U.S. newsrooms. In 2004 the Dart Center established an ongoing research node directed by Newman at the University of Tulsa Department of Psychology, involving graduate researchers in a variety of ongoing projects. The Center has supported and encouraged pioneering research into the mental health of combat reporters.

In 2006, journalist Bruce Shapiro, part of the Center’s founding leadership team, became the first full-time executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma.

In 2009, the Dart Foundation accepted an invitation from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism to locate the Dart Center there, providing a $7 million, 5-year gift to Columbia to support core programs.

Through generous ongoing support from the Dart Foundation and the active engagement of volunteer news professionals, clinicians and researchers, the Dart Center has been able to respond to exceptional events challenging journalism — the Oklahoma City bombing, September 11, the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, the Indonesian tsunami, among others — while expanding a core commitment to innovative training and support for all news professionals encountering violence and tragedy in the practice of their craft.