Journalists need to be prepared for emotional trauma

Emotional News Understanding involvement and trauma

The project

Warfare, criminal violence, natural disaster, bereavement, mental illness and abuse. These topics dominate media headlines and are the material with which many journalists build their careers. The way the media handles such stories can have lasting consequences for the people caught up in events. It can also profoundly affect the journalists covering them. Based at Bournemouth Media School's Centre for Public Communication Research and conducted in Association with the Dart Centre for journalism and Trauma, Emotions and Journalism is an innovative research project that looks at how journalists are trained to cover other people's distress.

Who it is for

Not all journalists, of course, work in war zones, or do in-depth reporting on the lives of drug addicts, but most will at some stage of their careers face emotionally difficult assignments. An editor might call upon non-specialists to report on the he aftermath of a terrorist incident; a reporter could find themselves interviewing a family after the death of somebody in the public eye.

Understanding these situations is not as straightforward as is often supposed. Few of us instinctively know how to interview survivors in ways that minimize the risks of compounding their distress, nor do most of us know how to recognize the onset of post-traumatic when it develops in ourselves. Medical staff, the police and the military now all routinely receive such specialist training. The project will examine how journalists and documentary filmmakers might benefit from a similar input.

The broader picture

Emotions and Journalism is also examining how public attitudes towards emotion and its expression are changing. Mental illness and trauma are still difficult subjects, but not the taboos they once were. And the emotional lives of politicians and celebrities are now more public property, than private.

Increasingly journalists are encouraged to bring themselves and their own emotional reactions into their reporting. Some worry about objectivity, and fear that a crude form of sensationalism risks blurring the line between "moving" and "emotive". Others see instead the opportunity for a more emotionally sophisticated form of journalism that could raise the quality and accuracy of reportage. We will be asking what practical implications these changes and others have for the future training of journalists.

Emotions in Journalism will