Medical Writer Goes Deep on PTSD

"When the News Breaks the Journalist: PTSD," published Dec. 17 in the Health section of, takes a comprehensive look at how newsgatherers are affected by traumatic stress.

Reported by Reuters medical writer Frederick Joelving, the story is pegged to a recent post-performance conversation at Donald Margulies' play, Time Stands Still, about two journalists whose relationship falls apart after separate assignments in Iraq. (The Dart Center acted as a consultant to the playwright and cast about the effects of PTSD on war correspondents.)

The deeply sourced report is valuable not only for journalists who want to learn more about how they can be affected by the tragic situations they cover, but also to a global audience of news consumers who are becoming increasingly familiar with PTSD as veterans return from war and victims of crime or individuals caught up in natural disasters deal with the inevitable after-effects. 

Among those quoted are Dr. Matthew J. Friedman, who directs the National Center for PTSD at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; Dart Center Research Director Dr. Elana Newman, Canadian psychiatrist and PTSD researcher Dr. Anthony Feinstein, and Dart Center Executive Director Bruce Shapiro.

In Joelving's report, BBC correspondent David Loyn and Chris Cramer, global editor for multimedia at Reuters, relate their personal struggles with post-traumatic stress. In Afghanistan in 1996, Loyn suffered from the after-effects of seeing a man executed in the streets for the crime of stealing his television camera. As a fledgling correspondent at the BBC, Cramer was among 26 people taken hostage at the Iranian Embassy in London in 1980, when armed gunmen stormed the building.

Joelving notes that as large news organizations like the Australian Broadcast Company, the BBC and Reuters put programs in place to help journalists deal with post-traumatic stress, they have their hands full: stress cases are rising because newsgathering is an increasingly dangerous endeavor. (A fact box reports the latest daunting statistics from the Committee to Protect Journalists.) But it's not only correspondents in warzones who are at risk; local reporters in places of chronic conflict – Iraq, Russia, Mexico – are vulnerable, too. And that points to the need for researchers, clinicians and news organizations to develop new strategies for journalists living and working under such difficult conditions.

"They don't have PTSD because they are not 'post,'" Newman said in the report. "They are living it daily."