Dart Asia Pacific Director Honored for Innovative Leadership in Trauma & Journalism

Cait McMahon, managing director of Dart Centre Asia Pacific, has been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia today for her pioneering leadership on behalf of journalists at risk of post-traumatic stress and other psychological injury.

Cait McMahon, managing director of Dart Centre Asia Pacific, has been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia today for her pioneering leadership on behalf of journalists at risk of post-traumatic stress and other psychological injury.

Awarded by Australia’s Governor General, the Order of Australia is the preeminent means by which the nation recognizes outstanding service by its citizens. McMahon received the honor for “services to community health, particularly traumatic stress services to journalists.”

“This award is for all journalists who bear witness; journalists who undertake an occupational risk each and every day,” said McMahon upon learning of the award in New York. “They’re doing it for the good of democracy and we have to honor that.”

“At the highest level, this is a recognition that journalists’ exposure to trauma is an issue,” added McMahon, a psychologist. “And it acknowledges the impact that the Dart Centre has had on Australian media, and on media throughout the world.”

With the support of Dart Center Chair Emeritus Frank Ochberg, McMahon established Dart Centre Asia Pacific as a satellite office of the organization in 2004. Since then, McMahon has developed innovative trauma reporting and peer support programs throughout the Asia Pacific region, including long standing partnerships with major news organizations, including the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the Korean Broadcasting Association and the National Union of Journalists-Philippines.

Cait McMahon conducts a post-tsunami discussion with staff from a Samoan television station in 2009.

“Cait McMahon is a trailblazer in educating journalists and news organizations worldwide about trauma, self-care and resilience,” said Bruce Shapiro, the Dart Center’s executive director. “She has been a global leader in establishing meaningful support for journalists handling the toughest assignments. In particular she has fostered widespread awareness in the Australian news industry of media organizations’ duty of care to journalists at risk of psychological injury.”

“This is a service not only to journalists but to the wider public that benefits from insightful coverage and resilient news teams,” added Shapiro, who has worked with McMahon since she came to the Dart Center as a volunteer in 2003.

But educating and supporting journalists exposed to trauma has not always been an easy task. “In the early days, the industry wasn’t really looking at this issue at all,” said McMahon, who conducted research on the impact of covering violence on news professionals in Australia as far back as 1992. “Then, it was a ‘macho, we-don’t-need-this’ kind of a culture.”

McMahon’s first encounters with that culture came at The Age newspaper, where she worked as a staff psychologist in the early 1990’s.

Being a psychologist “was initially seen by many journalists as an impediment rather than an aid in understanding how newsrooms operate,” said Matthew Ricketson, professor of journalism at the University of Canberra and Dart Centre Asia Pacific board chair. “Over time, and by dint of extraordinary energy, empathy and a genuine understanding of journalistic culture, McMahon has won over many admirers and supporters in newsrooms and among editorial executives.”

And, likewise, among working reporters. “We are now better trained in how to take care of ourselves and our colleagues, and better equipped with skills and knowledge when we interview sources who have endured trauma,” said Australian Broadcasting Corporation journalist Sally Sara, who last year wrote about her PTSD after returning home from reporting assignments in Afghanistan.

“Cait's work has fostered a growing army of journalists who in turn are spreading the word about trauma management to their peers,” said Sara.

One of those journalists is Walkley Award-winner Lisa Millar, who first met McMahon in 2006. “Cait has been a tower of strength for me as a foreign correspondent,” said Millar, a 2007 Dart Center Ochberg Fellow and London Bureau Chief for the ABC. “She has been able to turn the conversation about the media and trauma into an everyday normal conversation. And that is a powerful thing.”


Click here for the official list of award and appointments.