Skye Ray @theskyeray
As journalists, you never know how your day will go.
One day you are covering a celebration, and the next, you’re covering a traumatic event that could have a lasting effect on your life.
It’s easy to ask the question, “What was the hardest story that you ever covered?”
However we never ask, “How did you recover from that story?”
Nerissa Young, an associate lecturer at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, gets easily triggered by stories she has covered in the past.
“Every story I cover that has a traumatic aspect to it that becomes incorporated into my experience. Images I can’t get out of my mind…smells I can’t get out of my mind,” Young said.
She suggests that when reporting on traumatic events, recognize beforehand that you may be triggered.
“Secondary trauma is real,” Young continued.
Signs of experienced trauma includes a lack of sleep and eating, overeating and excessive drinking. This pain can be carried to someone else, according to Vit Activa, an organization that provides peer-to-peer support for people who suffer from stress, online harassment and traumatic events.
Louisa Ortiz Pérez, executive director of Vita Activa, believes that journalists are good at talking about other people’s emotions, but not theirs.
“You need to be able to be sincere with yourself and say, ‘okay, how long can I do this? This is a great story, but do I need to take a break?’” Perez said.
Not only does Perez suggest talking to yourself, but to others as well.
“Know your triggers and talk openly about them,” Perez continued.
While covering traumatic events, talking to a victim’s or suspect’s family can be hard while fighting your own triggers, because you see someone else suffering as well.
When covering events and talking to a victim’s family Ortiz Perez says,
“It’s revictimization if you don’t make sure the questions you ask are not very neutral, almost empathic or encouraging and factual in the most clinical way possible,” she says.
Ways to do this is by asking questions to start a conversation and just talk to the person as a normal person, not a victim.
Ask questions such as, “Tell me about your sister, what were her hobbies? What gave her joy?”
Words play a role in interviewing as well.
At the Scripps school, there is a guideline for reporting on traumatic events. The word “commit” is one that they teach their students not to use.
“If you’re religious person commit is usually followed by sin. If you’re in law enforcement, commit is usually followed by the name of a crime,” Young said.
“We are again trying to change the dialogue and the language surrounding this issue,” Young continued.
Now that you have your interviews, and you have relived the event or seen it with your own eyes, what should you do?
Al Tompkins, senior faculty for broadcast and online at The Poynter Institute in Sarasota, Fla., believes that it’s very normal to be affected while covering traumatic events.
“Traumatic events are not normal, which is why they are news,” Tompkins said.
But those events do not have to stay with you forever.
“When reporting on these events you have to remember to reset. What images can you use to remind you of what’s normal?” Tompkins said.
Last, he suggest to remember and believe in the importance of journalism.
“Newsrooms should discuss the value of journalism more,” he continued.
By having more conversations, the issue will be normalized. Allowing recovery after reporting on traumatic events be easier for journalists.