How traumatic stories are affecting media practitioners

Several studies have come out the in the past year showing that ongoing exposure to traumatic news can cause news consumers to feel stressed and experience flashbacks.

Less attention, though, is given to the journalists, photographers, and filmmakers who are reporting on and telling these stories.

In a New Republic essay this week, Chloe Angyal wrote about experiencing nightmares after reporting on her alma mater’s rape problem.

“The accounts I’d heard had lodged themselves into my subconscious Now, they were making their presence known, and brutally so,” Angyal writes. “I barely slept for the next three nights, afraid that if I did, I’d return to that terrible nightmare.

She interviewed others — men and women — who have experienced flashbacks and even PTSD after covering traumatic stories.

The changes in journalism haven’t helped the situation for freelancers. “The very shift in the landscape of journalism that has made it possible for there to be more space for more people to write about these topics, the internet, has increased the likelihood that those people will be freelancers who work from home,” Angyal writes. “When you don’t have an office, you can’t leave your work there. Without set work hours, you can’t clock out. It’s not so much a matter of taking the trauma home with you; the trauma lives at home with you.”

Some of the journalists who Angyal interviewed say it helps to talk with others who do similar work. It also helps to acknowledge that while the work is hard, it could be harder.

“Things could be worse,” Brittney Cooper, a Salon columnist and college professor who writes about gender-based and anti-black violence, told Angyal. “It’s the easiest it’s ever been, to be a black woman doing this work, and it still isn’t easy at all. So I try to remember the extreme difficulty of those who paved the way.”

There are also resources like the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, which advocates for ethical and thorough trauma reporting, fair treatment of victims and survivors, and greater awareness about how trauma reporting can affect media practitioners.

There’s no easy solution; these traumatic stories often need to be told. But when they’re the only stories that journalists, photographers and filmmakers tell, it’s no wonder they start to take a toll on their well-being and mental health.

We’ve written at length about why communities need more Restorative Narratives — stories that highlight renewal, resilience, and recovery in a tragedy’s aftermath. It seems that more media practitioners need these stories, too.

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