Featured Fellows: Alex Duval-Smith, Javier Garza, Aaron Glantz, Imogen Lamb & Sally Sara

Freelance foreign correspondent Alex Duval-Smith, Knight International Journalism Fellow Javier Garza, Radio France International reporter and producer Imogen Lamb, Reveal investigative reporter Aaron Glantz and ABC foreign correspondent Sally Sara share their experiences as Dart Center Ochberg Fellows. Click here to apply now!

Why did you seek or pursue the fellowship?

Alex Duval-Smith: After years of covering conflict and meeting people who had faced trauma, I didn't feel I had personally suffered any ill effects. But I was concerned about the people I had met and I felt responsible for the things I had 'made them' tell me about their experiences. Had I harmed them? Is being interviewed by a journalist in any way cathartic or is it simply a cruel journey back into pain? I wanted to hear what psychologists had to say about the impact of journalists' work on the people they interview.

Javier Garza: As an editor in Mexico, one of the most dangerous countries for journalists in the world, covering a wave violence unleashed by organized crime in my city, I needed to understand its effects. We didn’t confront violence only as a story to be covered from a distance, but also as a force that was tearing our community apart and that in some cases was directed at us, when criminals attacked journalists as a form of intimidation and censorship.

In this environment, grasping the concept of trauma with all its implications and expressions, allowed me to see this painful story under a new light and better understand the people that were suffering the most.

Imogen Lamb: Having been on many difficult assignments over some 30 years, I was very interested to know more about how to report trauma, and also about how journalists deal with trauma. This came to the fore after the assassination of two colleagues from RFI in northern Mali. 

Sally Sara: I have spent a lot of time in the field, reporting on trauma. I wanted to improve my story telling skills and learn more about dealing with the effects of prolonged exposure to trauma. I also wanted to know more about how to deal professionally with interviewees who have experienced trauma.


How would you describe the experience of the fellowship week?

Alex Duval-Smith: The fellowship answered some of my questions. But not all. I discovered that trauma journalism is an evolving science. To my surprise, I found I was not attending the fellowship as a learner but as a contributor. The selection process for the fellowship and the timing of the seminars had been carefully crafted so as to give each participant a voice. Everyone seemed to feel comfortable and keen to share their experiences and concerns, however painful. In the course of our frank discussions we melded as a group and began to like one another as individuals. It was incredibly inspiring to be among senior journalists who give serious thought to the impact of their work, well beyond the deadlines and competitiveness which are our daily reality.

Javier Garza: It was enriching beyond measure to share a week with a group so diverse in background and experience yet all sharing a common need to understand how we are shaped by the events we cover. Sharing experiences allowed me to look beyond my circumstance and learn from everyone else. It was a week that challenged our intellects and liberated our emotions beyond anything I had ever experienced.

Aaron Glantz: The Dart Center's Ochberg fellowship helped me learn how to capture the horrible details of war and its aftermath without exploiting my sources. Through the formal presentations and the experiences of my fellow journalists, I learned how to use my skill as a reporter to write stories in a way that empowers veterans and their families.

Imogen Lamb: The week was a fabulous - and unique - opportunity for me to engage with other journalists with similar experiences to my own, but also with journalists who've had very varied experiences of reporting trauma. Trauma is such a vast subject, and there are so many ways of approaching it, reporting on it, and dealing with it. I was also very grateful to the experts who gave presentations throughout the week: a precious insight into subjects I either knew little about or had so much more to learn about. The week was well-balanced: a mix of lectures, presentations, question and answer sessions and debates, with extra time to exchange in the evenings. 

Sally Sara: It was a remarkable opportunity to hear from journalists, researchers and mental health professionals. It was also an invaluable chance to meet the other Ochberg Fellows, from around the world. We shared our experiences and ideas. We are still in regular contact. The Fellowship has provided a lasting network for discussion, ideas and support.


How has the Fellowship changed your work or been a resource in your professional life?

Alex Duval-Smith: I am currently based in Poland. Most of my current work here is very different from that which I do in Africa. My insight into trauma has been of value even here. I am now asking myself whether Poland's relationship with its traumatic history - mass killings of Jews and non-Jews during the second world war - explains some of its contemporary realities, its inward-looking politics and its people's choices. I think it does. I also now refuse to go along with situations in which you are given 20 minutes to jot down someone's tragic life. I will not do that anymore. 

Javier Garza: It has made me more aware of the need to take psychological issues into account when planning the coverage of a story or when designing safety measures. In my work advising journalists and news organizations on protection and press freedom issues, the subject of psychological care has become a central concern. Understanding the impact that events have on journalists’ lives is central to improve the way we cover stories.

Aaron Glantz: Since the Ochberg fellowship, my writing has become clearer, with fewer cliches and more telling details, and my story selection has moved away from heart-wrenching but ultimately empty narratives and towards holding the government accountable for its failures to care for those who served.

I have kept in touch with many of the other journalists from my fellowship class, and I regularly seek their advice when difficult emotional terrain must be tackled in my coverage. The camaraderie of our group is amazing.

Imogen Lamb: Thanks to the Fellowship I feel more knowledgeable to talk about trauma issues with colleagues, many of whom regularly go on difficult reporting assignments. I have also been able to talk about what I learnt with management in my company, and hope I've been able to increase trauma awareness within my media group. I have also discussed the work of the Dart Center with colleagues, including outside my own company. And I'm still hoping to encourage journalism schools to put reporting trauma on their syllabus. The Fellowship has given me the confidence to talk about trauma issues: these issues aren't discussed much in the journalism profession, certainly not in France! And finally thanks to the Fellowship I've become part of a group of experts and Fellows from around the world who I can contact and exchange with anytime, and for that I am very grateful. 

Sally Sara: I now have more skills for interviewing and interacting with people who have endured trauma. I have a better understanding of the science and research behind trauma. Above all, I left the fellowship feeling invigorated and inspired.