Reporting a traumatic community event - resources for media workers
Reporting a community tragedy can impact media workers, their managers, and their loved ones acutely. Those impacts can be potentially immediate, delayed or long-term. As each of these media workers – and their managers – digest the ramifications, personal and professional, of this tragedy, the Dart Centre Asia Pacific is offering some tips and resources that may help them report ethically and safely.
On December 12, 2022, a mass shooting that occurred in the small community of Wieambilla, on Queensland’s Darling Downs, has left six people – including two police officers and an innocent local resident – dead, putting many news personnel in situations where they are reporting a terrible crime that has the potential to be extremely distressing.
Reporting a community tragedy can impact media workers, their managers, and their loved ones acutely. Those impacts can be potentially immediate, delayed or long-term.
As each of these media workers – and their managers – digest the ramifications, personal and professional, of this tragedy, the Dart Centre Asia Pacific is offering some tips and resources that may help them report ethically and safely.
For those who have, or will be, on-scene reporting:
- Before you head out, take time to prepare for the intense reporting that you are about undertake and the potential impact it can have
- If you have any concerns, speak to your newsroom managers and colleagues before you embark
- Keep your loved ones, at least those you are closest to, informed about your assignment
- Have someone you trust who you can call on if you need to talk through anything disturbing
- Make sure that you pace yourself and take regular breaks while on assignment, rehydrating regularly and having some food
- If you feel overwhelmed or fatigued, speak to your news desk without delay
- Debrief regularly with your team, it can help enormously. You may also find speaking to a mentor or an experienced colleague – who can be from your own or another media outlet, a retired reporter, or a trauma-informed health practitioner – can help you process what you have seen or heard
- Peer support is important especially, if you have experienced something together. Look out for each other.
- Before media workers head out to report tragic events, brief them thoroughly about on-the-ground situation and what is expected of them
- Create and implement plans for regular check-ins
- Be mindful personal and/or professional circumstances that can adversely impact the reporter and/or the safety of your staff
- Make sure that journalists working on scene and at the desk have sufficient breaks from their work
- Initiate regular debriefs to discuss the impact of the reporting and how journalists feel about the coverage and job demands
- It is always better to deploy several journalists to report on a tragedy where you can and to rotate coverage teams to allow for sufficient breaks
- Keep senior management informed of possible mental wellbeing impacts, potential requirements to approve leave or add additional staff to the reporting
- Foster a newsroom environment that emphasises and supports self-care and peer-support.
What to look out for when you, or your team, return home from covering a traumatic event:
- Behaviours such as: Irritability; angry for no reason; agitated or easily annoyed; snapping at family, friends or co-workers; social isolation or destructive behavior (e.g., excessive drinking, use of stimulants or drugs, or driving fast)
- Be alert to lack of sleep, insomnia, intrusive thoughts or images and nightmares
- Emotional detachment and difficulties concentrating
- Lack of interest in – or avoidance of – things you might normally enjoy
- Hypervigilance or easily startled, being “on guard” for danger
- Teary or feelings of guilt
- Difficulty completing simple, everyday tasks
- Physical reactions such as nausea, vomiting, chest tightness, shortness of breath
- Acknowledge how you are feeling, because this is all normal after a traumatic event.
Strategies to help you through this time
- Ensure proper eating and hydration, drink plenty of non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated fluids and avoid alcohol
- Try not to keep re-watching the news or revisiting images associated with the event. Take time away even if you go for a walk, or a swim, or listen to music
- Get back to your normal routine as soon you are able
- Watch for delayed reactions that may occur in within a couple of weeks or more
- Adopt deep-breathing relaxation exercises or follow a mindfulness app if you do not use these practices already
- Exercise – go for a run or a walk. Join a meditation or yoga class if that is something that interests you, go for a swim at the beach or pool. Try an activity that you can leave your phone behind and not turn it on for an hour.
- Make time to rest. Be kind to yourself. It is OK to do nothing. If you feel like you need to be doing something you can write in a journal if you have one or read a book.
- Reach out for professional help if your life or work are affected, especially if your symptoms go on for longer than a month. You can call your GP to discuss and obtain a mental health plan to access a Psychologist or call one of these numbers for immediate help:
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
Mensline 1300 789 978
Mindspot 1800 6144334
Head to Health 1800 595 212