Conferences‎ > ‎2008‎ > ‎

Conference Papers

Abstracts of conference papers appear below in order of presentation on Day Two of the conference.  If the author has chosen to provide the paper or presentation slides for download, a link is provided following the abstract.


Dr. Anthony Feinstein, M. Phil., PhD., F.R.C.P. (C), Professor of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, & Guggenheim Fellow.
"The Emotional Health of War Journalists"

Data will be presented from a series of studies investigating the emotional health of journalists who work in zones of conflict. The results reveal that although journalists are generally resilient in the face of danger and adversity, a significant minority will develop psychological problems that include posttraumatic stress disorder, depression and substance abuse, over the course of their lives. Data will also be presented investigating whether embedded journalists are at increased risk for these conditions. Finally, the emotional health of journalists covering the events of September 11 will be discussed and data presented showing how their responses to the traumatic event differs from those seen in journalists who cover war.

PANEL: Building Awareness: the Impact of Trauma on Others

Dr. Elana Newman, Associate Professor and Director of Clinical Training, Department of Psychology, University of Tulsa: "The Impact of Mass Disaster Coverage on the Public."
The often graphic nature of news reports and images following incidents of terrorism and disaster is undeniable, raising questions about the effect that news coverage of terrorism and disasters has on the public. Several investigators have examined the known effects of trauma-related news consumption upon the public. This presentation will review the research on the relationship between news consumption and symptoms, and highlight the strengths and weaknesses of existing research.


Linda Kay, Associate Professor of Journalism; Dr. Rosemary C. Reilly, Assistant Professor, Applied Human Sciences; Kate Connolly; and Stephen Cohen - Concordia University, Montreal: "Help or Harm? The Impact of Press Coverage on a Community Experiencing Trauma."
This paper will explore the impact of extensive press coverage on a small rural community in Quebec that experienced the horrific murder of a teenage girl by a local man. In July of 2005, Shanna Poissant, 16, was found buried in a shallow grave in Hemmingford, Que. She’d been missing for more than two weeks. Press coverage of the case was intense, as print and broadcast journalists converged on the small rural town to chase the story, and to cover the arrest of the suspect, a professional wrestler, and his parents, who were held as accessories after-the-fact. Our paper will present an analysis of the narrative constructed by the media. As well, the voices of residents and of a local journalist will counterbalance the media narrative. These perspectives will serve to illuminate the dynamics of secondary trauma that can occur as a result of such intensive press coverage of a traumatic event. In the sociological sense, secondary trauma is defined by Gill as "(e)vents, occasions, or public perceptions that inhibit timely community recovery and prolong stress and disruption." In our paper, we will consider whether media outlets contributed to secondary trauma in the Shanna Poissant case. As part of our analysis, we will differentiate between secondary trauma associated with television coverage and secondary trauma associated with print coverage. In so doing, we will examine coverage by national and local television as well as coverage by several metropolitan dailies and a small local newspaper.

Sara B. Tiegreen, M.A., Summer Voorhees, B.A., and Dr. Elana Newman, Department of Psychology, University of Tulsa: "News Framing Effects on Readers' Fear and Perceptions of Risk."

The way traumatic news stories are told may impact newspaper readers’ perceptions of traumatic events (e.g. crime and violence) and reactions to such events. The public health model of reporting (Thorson, Dorfman, & Stevens, 2003) promotes the integration of broader contextual information into a single-event story, as opposed to traditional reporting that focuses on details of a single event without incorporating contextual factors. Thorson et al. (2003) believe that public health reporting may shift readers’ focus pertaining to trauma news from fear and helplessness to potential prevention strategies, by drawing attention to base rates and risk factors. The impact of framing on fear and risk perception has not been empirically studied to date. The present study examines 400 reader responses to the public health model of reporting versus traditional reporting of a murder story, using an experimental design. We hypothesize readers’ fear and risk perception will be significantly higher among readers of the traditional story compared to readers of the public health story. Data has been collected, but not yet analyzed.


Dr. Patrice Keats, Assistant Professor and Program Co-ordinator of Counselling Psychology, Faculty of Education, Simon Fraser University; and Dr. Marla Buchanan, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Programs, Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology and Special Education, University of British Columbia: "Secondary Traumatization in First-Responders: A Critical Ethnographic Study of Photojournalists and Journalists."
In this presentation we will discuss the preliminary findings of our Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada funded grant investigating the secondary traumatization of journalist and photojournalists. This ethnographic study included in-depth interviews, observations, and focus group discussions with journalists and photojournalists across Canada. The primary aim of this research project was to understand the beliefs, shared meanings, and occupational practices of workers from the journalism field in the context of trauma and disaster events that put them at risk of high stress from witnessing traumatic events. From this understanding we have begun to develop a conceptual model of secondary trauma in photojournalists/ journalists that may be applied to treatment interventions. We documented the experiences of a diverse group of Canadian journalists and photojournalists who appeared to be at risk for developing traumatic stress symptoms from their work with trauma survivors in national and international trauma events, conflict, or disaster areas. We also explored the consequences of their exposure to traumatized populations and sought to understand the context specific conditions and experiences underlying their work related stress. Finally, we are in the process of understanding the contextual impact of traumatic events, their consequences, and journalists’ approaches to coping during the event, in the newsroom, and in their personal lives. The findings have contributed to our understanding of the degree and type of psychological support available both in and out of the newsroom for journalists and photojournalists.

  cjfvt08_keats_buchanan.pdf (41KB)

Dr. Doug Underwood, Department of Communication, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington: "Trauma, Journalism and Fiction: An Historical-Conceptual Analysis of the Impact of Traumatic Experiences in the Lives of Famous Journalist-Literary Figures."

This paper outlines a conceptual and historical framework for comprehending the impact of trauma and violence in the careers of important journalist-literary figures in the United States and the British Isles dating from the early 1700s to today. The paper examines the nature of traumatic events and traumatic life experiences in the lives of these figures and the role that dealing with trauma (both in their personal and professional lives) has played in the shaping of their journalistic and literary professional value system and its expression in their literary works. Using psychological studies of trauma as the basis of the analysis, the paper advances a theory about the connection of trauma and artistic ambition by examining a range of traumatic life experiences that have influenced the lives and careers of the major journalist-literary figures. Studies are cited that identify “triggers” of trauma and stressful reactions, including childhood abandonment and deprivation (poverty and economic hardship, childhoods spent with emotionally or mentally troubled parents, childhood loss of parent, parents, or siblings); adult losses (loss of children, troubled marriages, divorce, the impact of affairs and philandering); mental and physical health struggles and dysfunctional behaviors (excessive drinking or drug use, emotional illness, management of serious physical ailments); religious struggles (difficult or rigid religious upbringings, religious views that conflict with a job); job stress (abusive bosses or work environments, dismissal from jobs, deadline pressures, disruptions of family life); exposure to violence in life and/or employment (military involvement in war, work as war correspondents, reporting of traumatic events); lifestyle difficulties (living as gay person, ethnic minority, or woman in a male dominated work environment). Studies also will be drawn upon that indicate that there is a connection between one or more of these life stressors and the susceptibility to post-traumatic stress syndrome, as well as evidence that people are more prone to take jobs as journalists in potentially traumatic situations if they have experienced one or more of these life stresses.

  cjfvt08_underwood.pdf (96KB)


Robert Frank, Freelance Journalist & National Board Member, Canadian Association of Journalists; and Dr. Ross Perigoe, Professor of Journalism, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec: "Informed Mutual Support: Options on Violence and Trauma from the Perspective of the Journalist."
While Journalists report on the victims of violence and trauma as part of their news coverage diet, neither they, nor their managers, spend much time assessing the impact of how these events are digested – stored, relived, and ultimately change their own lives. Journalists know that the best stories come from the heart – that, to engage a subject requires compassion, and understanding to build a level of trust that results in expressions which are meaningful, personal, and frequently, emotional. Yet it is the very nature of the journalist’s extending himself to others that can have potentially damaging psychological consequences.
They argue that reporting affects not only those who are reported on, but also those who compose the report. No news person is unaffected by the content of his or her reports. This theme is pivotal to our understanding of the impact of traumatic stress on the news craft.
They believe that journalists need to take ownership of the issue; to develop practices that permit them to mitigate the after effects. It is their position that, in addressing the trauma of the reporter, there is a functional model that needs to be re-visited and made more pro-active; but which deserves greater status than it historically has been granted.
The Montreal Press Club was created in 1948 by a group of former war correspondents who needed opportunities to socialize with comrades whose experiences were, like theirs, unforgettable. Their ‘self-medication’ of alcohol likely had little lasting value to soothe the pain, but it served as a short-term remedy for many. At first blush, the lessons learned from Press Clubs established after the war seem far-fetched. Yet the parallels are remarkable in outlining our position: attendance was voluntary; discussions wide-ranging; memories were respected; jobs (and an understanding of what was required to do the job) were similar and known among the patrons; the atmosphere comfortable and inviting.
The authors advocate a model of mutual support within the craft that crosses institutional boundaries, aided by professional development that teaches news people how to help colleagues and how to recognize the occasions when they need to refer someone for clinical help. All without the seemingly obligatory need for alcohol of the Press Club.
While training before the traumatic event promotes understanding that in turn will permit journalists to recognize symptoms and seek help, it cannot inoculate them against subsequent exposure to traumatic stress. They also cite findings that debriefings in the immediate aftermath of traumatization can worsen psychological outcomes. This has led some clinicians to advocate doing nothing until a patient presents with a complaint. The authors consider this morally and ethically lacking and propose alternatives.
Their model is informed by the work of clinician Jonathan Shay (1995) who, after decades as a clinician for Vietnam War veterans, found those who fared the best either found or created their own groups of trustworthy listeners. They will show how the press club model for healing can be adapted to suit the needs of 21st century news people at home as well as abroad.
They conclude by highlighting how news organizations can support concrete measures that the Canadian Association of Journalists Educational Foundation aims to take to redress these issues.

  cjfvt08_frank_perigoe.pdf  (205KB)


Dr. Charles Hays, School of Journalism, Thompson Rivers University, Kamloops, British Columbia: "Walking Mean Streets: Journalists and Adaptation."
This study surveys working journalists who have graduated from the Thompson Rivers University School of Journalism between 2004 and 2007. Although TRU’s journalism program has only been in existence since 1998, graduates are working in Mexico, the U.S., and across Canada. Despite some notable successes, the program has never longitudinally tracked graduates. This study intends to assess the preparedness of TRU journalism graduates to face challenges in their careers, including violence – whether happening in their vicinity in the course of reporting duties or directed to them as a consequence of their presence – and to address the ways in which they adapt to violence and violent situations as new journalists. As a result of this study, the faculty of the TRU School of Journalism will be able to evaluate the program’s successes and develop curriculum to address areas of deficiency. As a representative model of reflection and program evaluation, this study may offer some general guidelines to faculty in other journalism programs developing curricula aimed at increasing awareness of violence and its effect on media professionals who are exposed to it.

  cjfvt08_hays.pdf (54KB)

PANEL: how Does Traumatization of Journalists Affect Coverage?

Dr. Elana Newman, & River Smith, University of Tulsa: "Occupational Health and Journalists"
The impact of covering traumatic events upon journalists; health, safety, and well-being is a contemporary focus for researchers in the field of traumatic stress that has significant implications for occupational health programs. It has been well documented that witnessing life’s atrocities can take a toll on even the most experienced journalist. Recent research has examined factors related to journalists’ psychological maladjustment after exposure to work-related traumatic stress. This presentation will present the current research findings in the context of the boarder literature on occupational stress and health in order to identify areas for future research, prevention and intervention. In particular information about the occupational health of therapists and first-responders will be reviewed for journalists.


Dr. Carrie A. Rentschler, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec: "From Danger to Trauma: Affective Labour and the Discourse of Journalistic Witnessing."

This talk examines a current shift from talking about journalism as a dangerous profession (signified through reporters’ physical injuries and the mortalities of journalists) to a traumatizing one (signified through bodily signs of trauma and the emotional literacy of psychological injury). As I argue, “bearing witness” has emerged as a language for describing the work of journalism in affective terms and a means for indicting some of the conditions of journalists’ labour as potentially traumatizing. In the process, it critically refigures the cultural work of “trauma” in a post-9/11, and post-Columbine, world by examining the conditions of witnessing that creates it as work, not, as Michael Hardt suggests, as an immaterial form of affective labor, but as a form of potentially emotion-laden work that leaves bodily and psychic marks on reporters.
Like other professions that portray their workers as “first responders,” journalism is now drawing directly from this lingo of first contact in order to articulate reporters’ position as workers as witnesses to others’ lives and deaths. This discourse of journalistic witnessing transforms the very idea of the professional practice of journalism, from that of the psychologically detached (e.g. “objective”) labor of the job, on the one hand, or the conscious attachments of advocacy journalism, on the other, to that of the affective experience of reporting. The talk examines a body of backchannel texts in the field (including the training film “Covering Columbine” and recent studies of PTSD among reporters) that currently aim to re-make journalism as an act of witnessing, using the concept of trauma to re-define news work through the codification of workers’ wounded psyches.

Panel: What Do We Tell the Next Generation?
Dr. Gretchen Dworznik, Communication Arts, Ashland University and Dr. Max Grubb*, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Kent State University, " Preparing for the Worst: Making a Case for Trauma Training in the Journalism Classroom"
This study is an exploratory look into the merits of including trauma training in the journalism classroom. Qualitative interviews with students who covered a death-penalty murder trial and results from a quantitative survey of journalism students are combined to show that preparing students for the emotional reactions they may experience while covering the news is not only needed by wanted by the students themselves. Implications and directions for future research are also discussed.
*Dr. Max Grubb will be presenting.


Dr. Jad Melki,
Research Director, International Center for Media & the Public Agenda; Dr. Paul Mihailidis, ICMPA's Program Director for the Salzburg Academy Program on Media and Global Change, Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland; Dr. Meg Spratt, Associate Director for Academic Programs at the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma and Lecturer, University of Washington; and Shuling Huang, PhD candidate, University of Maryland: "Trauma Journalism Education in the US"
The DART Center for Trauma and Journalism at the University of Washington and the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda (ICMPA) at the University of Maryland, College Park, are conducting a major study of accredited U.S. journalism programs to determine whether and how they teach students about coverage of trauma, violence, victims, survivors and tragedies. The purpose of the study is to generate a status report on the state of journalism education in regards to covering trauma and violence. The study uses a multi-method approach, including a survey of 640 journalism professors and educators, and in-depth interviews with faculty members, college deans, journalism accreditation committees, news editors and media gatekeepers. In addition, the study analyzes journalism curricula and syllabi and observes how a select number of programs teach trauma journalism. Preliminary results of the study will be available in January.
* Dr. Meg Spratt will be presenting.


Dr. Linda Kay, Associate Professor of Journalism, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec: "Stimulation Through Simulation."

As the eyes and ears of the community, journalists must cover disasters ­natural and man-made. Yet it¹s difficult to teach students how to cover a tragedy or how to write a story under harrowing circumstances in the classroom setting, where discussion is theoretical and reactions can only be imagined. September 11th presented an opportunity to convey a lesson in reporting and writing that might stay with my students for years to come. But I hesitated to take that opportunity. Were my students ready? Was I? The answer I got convinced me that teaching students how to cover trauma had to be a part of my repertoire. I devised a classroom simulation to help drive the lesson home and stimulate thought and discussion. My paper will explain the simulation and the process that led me to devise it.