- Sarah French
The Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma (2009) has the following tips for what managers can do specifically to help their newsrooms:
Before an assignment, managers should focus on the following:
While journalists are out on a potentially traumatic assignment, managers should:
After staff arrives back from assignment, managers should:
Trauma awareness briefings should be a core element of standard training and management.
Maintain regular contact – even a quick phone call to say ‘g’day, how’s it going’?
It’s essential that managers make contact with anyone on their staff who’s been through a distressing experience.
Sit down with the individual/team and talk through the possible emotional risks involved as well as the logistics and purpose of the assignment itself.
Give words of encouragement and watch criticism – people’s sensitivities are heightened when exposed to trauma.
Acknowledge with thanks, lunch, drinks, public recognition, emails – thank you goes a long way to assist well-being and better work performance.
Remind staff that distress from trauma exposure is a normal human reaction and not weakness. It may even inform their reporting.
Remind them of the importance of self care. Healthy eating, exercise and sleep are vital and ensure better journalism. Too much ‘self-medication’ with alcohol has the opposite effect.
Diffuse with those returning from trauma reporting – talk to them about how it was both logistically and emotionally. Don’t be afraid to talk emotions – they are normal.
Acknowledge and show appreciation even before people go. Feeling valued keeps people emotionally balanced and more invested in hard work.
Encourage staff that if they are feeling distressed not to hide it. Such responses are not abnormal, they're human, and it is neither weak, unprofessional nor career-threatening to acknowledge them.
Encourage staff to maintain support from family, friends and social networks.
Organize newsroom to journalist contact before departure for support as well as news gathering.
Manage contact with others from your organization – a badly timed phone call will exacerbate stress levels
Remind them that any distress is a typical human response following trauma exposure.
For longer assignments reassure that phone calls with home are important - not a perk. Ensure you have updated lists of personal emergency contact numbers for those leaving.
Consider rotation or withdrawal of a highly distressed person, but remember to discuss your reasons with them and do it sensitively.
Offer counselling if they appear overwhelmed or you feel out of your depth.
Remember that all those involved in news gathering can be exposed to trauma – not just the front line. Picture and film editors, sound recordists, etc. will be also exposed to potentially traumatic material.
Following longer assignments consider a day or two of ‘decompression’ – a ‘layover’ period to readjust from trauma exposure. Ensure that families are aware this is happening.
It is important to check in with them again in 3-4 weeks to see if any of these symptoms are still occurring … During this time employ ‘watchful waiting’ (keeping a quiet eye on them).
Research indicates that car crashes, court reporting and ‘small scale’ trauma reporting can have as much an impact as the ‘big ones’. Be mindful of daily domestic tragedy.
Remember that you are also part of the ‘ripple effect of trauma’. Notice your own emotions and don’t be surprised if you also feel some of the above symptoms or others that seem out of the ordinary.
In an unprecedented move during this research, managers at KATU in Portland, Oregon decided to preempt newscasts so everyone could attend a seminar on job stress and trauma. The support from journalists across the country was resounding.
“It’s important to have healthy employees that are mentally well and physically well. But the benefit of that is the cost benefit. They are more productive. Companies are more profitable. And you have better more creative ideas." - Rebecca Palpant Shimkets of The Carter Center