Keinen Journalisten mundtot machen

Bruce Shapiro, Direktor des Dart Centers und investigativer Reporter in den USA, schildert in einem beeindruckenden Beitrag, warum sich die Stiftung gründete und welchen Aufgaben sie sich widmet.

Zitate dieses Originalbeitrages wurden in gekürzter Version auch in der Zeitschrift für Kulturaustausch (ifa- Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen- Ausgabe 4/2010) auf Deutsch veröffentlicht. Lesen Sie hier die pdf-Version (mit freundlicher Genehmigung der Redaktion).


During the early 90s I was writing for The Nation, a weekly magazine. A lot of my reporting was about crime, prisons, the death penalty and human rights in the U.S. It was a time of great debate over crime and punishment in the U.S. Then one night in the summer of 1994, I was sitting with friends in a café near my home when this little man at a nearby table suddenly pulled out a large hunting knife and stabbed seven people, including me. He was mentally ill. Thankfully nobody died. But I had the strange and difficult experience of going from being a reporter covering crime to being an injured victim, in a story which received wide news coverage.

I wrote about that experience in The Nation a few months later, and spent the next several years reporting about crime victims and American politics. That put me in touch with Dr. Frank Ochberg, a psychiatrist and pioneer in understanding post-traumatic stress. In 1994 Frank had persuaded the Dart Foundation, a family philanthropy in Michigan, to fund an annual award for in-depth coverage of victims of crime, and a small experimental journalism-education program at Michigan State University bringing crime victims in to talk with students. This was a visionary innovation, since American crime reporting up until that time was mostly traditional – hardboiled, tabloid, centred on police and courts. Frank and MSU were kind enough to invite me to speak at the Dart Award ceremony. Through Frank, I gradually met others who over the next few years became close colleagues and collaborators – Roger Simpson, an equally innovative journalism professor at the University of Washington, who was bringing victim-advocates into his news ethics classes; Joe Hight, the courageous managing editor of The Oklahoman, who steered his newspaper’s coverage of the devastating Oklahoma City bombing; Elana Newman, a psychology PhD who started to devote her research to the impact of reporting trauma on journalists, questions no one had ever asked; Mark Brayne, a BBC World Service correspondent who retrained as a psychotherapist.

In 1999 it all came together at the University of Washington, where Roger Simpson established the Dart Center with funding from the Dart Foundation. That same year we began inviting reporters to an annual week-long fellowship program on covering trauma, which remains one of the Dart Center’s flagship programs.
In 2009 the Dart Center moved to the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City. But our mission remains the same: to encourage innovative, ethical news coverage of violence, conflict and tragedy; to support journalists who face these challenging assignments; to link journalists and news managers with the best clinicians, researchers, advocates and scholars concerned with the impact of violence on individuals, families, and society.

The first news story I ever reported, in 1979, involved a the death of a young woman in my neighbourhood in Chicago named Sandra Robinson. She was killed in her sleep by a gas leak in her apartment building. The prosecutor called it a homicide, because Sandra Robinson’s landlord hadn’t maintained the heating system. My experience on this story is typical of new reporters: It is the least experienced who are sent out to cover murder, unnatural death, crime, fires, all the time, but no one teaches us how to understand victims and survivors, how to talk to their family or friends, how to keep or balance in the face of upsetting assignments. You wouldn’t send a reporter to cover a local soccer club who doesn’t know what a goal or a penalty kick is. But we send reporters out to cover murder and mayhem who’ve never heard of PTSD or how to read the numb gaze of a witness. It’s crazy.

At a deep and personal level, I believe that some of the most important decisions faced by any democratic society involve violence and its impact. This conviction was only deepened by 9/11 and everything we’ve seen in the last decade. Whether to go to war; how to punish crime; how to prevent family violence; how to secure equality for women as well as stigmatized ethnic groups, gays and lesbians, refugees and other minorities. The better informed the public is about the roots and consequences of violence, the more likely we’ll collectively make better decisions.

A nation which understands that soldiers and civilians may be haunted by PTSD for decades will, I hope, be less likely to rush to war, for instance. A nation which understands impact of sexual assault will take gender-based violence seriously as a social policy instead of shaming and re-traumatizing the victims. If journalism is the capillary system of democracy, then as reporters we are in a unique position to shape public understanding of these issues.

I also believe that the impact of covering extreme and traumatic events needs to be taken seriously as an occupational health issue within journalism. This is one of the Dart Center’s contributions of which I am especially proud: until we came along, no psychologist or researcher ever asked “what about the reporter or photographer.”

Now – after 9/11, Iraq and Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina, the boxing-day tsunami, and smaller local catastrophes like the Winnenden school shootings - news organizations around the world, like the BBC, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the New York Times, as well as news organizations within Germany, are all trying to incorporate some kind of trauma awareness for their reporters and managers. The programs vary – some are one-off briefings after some terrible event; some, like the ABC or BBC, are full-fledging peer-support or management-training commitments. The points are that the culture of journalism is changing.

Trauma awareness training is about keeping good journalists resilient, and I believe it is at bottom a press-freedom issue: A good reporter who is derailed by psychological injury from witnessing too much blood and suffering is silenced, as effectively as if she or he was wrapped up in an orange jump suit and shipped off to Guantanamo.

Fundamentally I believe that truthfully bearing witness to violence and tragedy is simply one of the core responsibilities of journalism – and journalism that is inaccurate, hysterical, exploitative can do enormous, even murderous, damage. A few years ago I had the privilege of teaching investigative journalism to young reporters in Ukraine. This was just after the Orange Revolution, the first period of a genuinely free press. It was a very personal assignment for me, because my grandfather was a Ukrainian Jew from the town of Kuzmin, in the Volhyina region. I found myself speaking in an unusually personal way with these young reporters, telling them that my grandfather left his village fleeing anti-Semitic pogroms before World War One; and what was left of his family, my family, were murdered by SS Einsatzgruppen in August 1941. It neither time were reporters present to tell the world the truth about what was happening to my family. Indeed, in both Czarist Russia and Nazi Germany journalism played a terrible role in spreading lies and inciting anti-Semitic hatred. So maybe on one level I am trying to redeem a craft which once betrayed my family and my people.

One of the biggest challenges we’re facing at the Dart Center is creating effective training and support programs for journalists who live in zones of chronic violence and threat, who are reporting in their own communities at great risk to themselves and their families. Places like Mexico, where the combination of drug trafficking and political corruption have led to unprecedented murders of journalists and extraordinary levels of murder in general. Or Mindanao in the Philippines, where 30 local reporters were massacred while accompanying an opposition political candidate last fall. Or Russia, where a great human rights reporter like Anna Politkovskaya can be assassinated with total impunity. Local journalists in these crisis areas are in a radically different situation from foreign correspondents who parachute in and return to safety.

We also launched a scholarly project, the Dart Research Database, which I find very interesting – a global, online database of all research connected to journalism and trauma. I hope this encourages which I see as an new field of study emerging from the intersection of journalism and trauma. And we are developing a network of Dart-trained journalists in Latin America, a region where the narratives of victims and effective reporting on violence have great importance.

All of these projects reflect the Center’s overall goal: to change the culture of journalism. Historically journalism has been an innovative craft – and we are in a particular period of innovation now. I just want to be sure that this means not just innovations in news technology, but a newly compassionate sense of whose stories count as news and how those stories get told; as well as a new commitment to journalists who put everything on the line to bear witness to human cruelty, suffering and resilience.