Gavin Rees On "The Trauma Factor"

In a new book about challenges facing journalism, Dart Centre Europe Director Gavin Rees contributes a chapter about recent insights into trauma science and what journalists and media scholars can learn about them.

Then, and later, I felt nothing. I never talked about what happened in those places, but I wrote about them. I disagreed that reporters suffered from trauma; after all, I argued, we were the ones who got out. It was the people we left behind that suffered, that died. I did not suffer the syndromes, I did not have the shakes. I did not have psychotic tendencies. I was not an alcoholic or drug addict who needed to blot out memories. I was, I thought, perfectly fine and functioning.”—Janine di Giovanni, senior foreign correspondent, The Times (from Journalism: New Challenges)

Gavin Rees, director of Dart Centre Europe, has written an introductory text for journalism students, which explores how recent insights into trauma science could improve the quality of their journalism.

The chapter, The Trauma Factor, appears in a new book published by Bournemouth University, “Journalism: New Challenges.” Its aim is to help fill a current shortfall in the literature about trauma, and its impact on journalists and their professional practice. Like other contributions to the book, Rees’s chapter is designed to speak to both journalism students and media theory scholars. He suggests that a reluctance to think through trauma issues may significantly hamper the development of effective craft skills.

“There was a tendency to believe that admitting to being in difficulty was a sign of weakness that could harm… future careers, ” Rees writes. This fear has caused many journalists to avoid dealing with, or in some cases even recognizing, the personal trauma impact they may experience. It may also, he suggests, impact the way they report on trauma survivors.

Rees writes, “While ethics and reporting standards are common in journalism, they are often too abstract to deal with the practicalities of trauma reporting.” There is little useful discussion around such issues as “what to do when an interviewee breaks down in the interview, how to listen non-judgmentally, how to fact-check without implying that one does not believe the interviewee?”

The reluctance to discuss these issues head on, Rees writes, leaves practitioners to learn by “trial and error” and hinders media scholars from doing adequate descriptive justice to how journalists experience their work.

The entire book is available as a free download. You can also download Rees’s chapter on this page from the Dart Center.

Some highlights and tips from the chapter include:

  • “One of the golden insights that good trauma reporters develop through experience is to take each person as they find him or her. One has to meet people where they are, not where one would like them to be.”
  • “Perhaps the most important social factor that keeps people resilient is good social support.”
  • “Good trauma reporting requires some specific knowledge, familiarity with certain interviewing techniques and a baseline ethical concern. But above all, it requires agility and precise attention to the specifics of each situation.”