July 16, 2014

On Wednesday, journalists witnessed and tried to help after an Israeli strike in Gaza killed four Palestinian boys, Jack Mirkinson reported for Huffington Post. Peter Beaumont wrote about what he witnessed for The Guardian. William Booth wrote about the strike for The Washington Post.

Journalists working in dangerous situations are both covering trauma and could be experiencing it themselves. Here are five tips from Poynter’s News University webinar “Trauma Awareness: What Every Journalist Needs to Know.” Poynter’s Howard Finberg hosted the Webinar. It features Heather Forbes from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

1. It can take weeks to recover from witnessing tragedies. If it takes longer, Forbes said, seek professional help.

“Don’t feel ashamed about seeking help.”

2. Acknowledging that you’ve experienced trauma can make you a better journalist.

“If you understand that you’ve been traumatized, that you’re not going crazy, that this is a normal response to something horrific that you’ve witnessed, then actually you will get stronger and therefore your journalism will get better,” Forbes said. “It will make you a more empathetic person.”

3. People in the media are among first responders, but it’s natural to want to help.

“The firefighter is there to put out the fire,” Forbes said. “The reporter is there to report on it. That’s one of the things that can cause the trauma in the reporter because it’s a normal human response to want to help, but your job is to report on what’s happening. Your job is not to get involved.”

4. Take care of yourself.

Get sleep. Eat well. Take walks. Breathe.

“All of these self-care tips are absolute no-brainers,” Forbes said, “but they are things that we forget to do.”

5. Turn to peers.

Set up informal peer support groups, whether it’s colleagues or a fellow freelancers.

NewsU has several resources for covering trauma. Here’s a quick look at the courses:

— Journalism and Trauma

— Ethics of Journalism

— Grappling with Graphic Images

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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