Before I started reading the introduction and first two chapters of “Covering Violence” by Roger Simpson and William Coté, I was listening to a “This American Life” podcast on my phone. The theme for the episode was doppelgängers, and one of the stories was about two men who experienced trauma in drastically different places but shared a surprisingly large number of parallels in their experiences. One was a drug dealer from Philadelphia, the other a war veteran who had fought in Afghanistan. The story wove their interviews together as they both spoke about their most traumatic experiences, their desire to push their feelings below the surface, their rage and their struggles with substance abuse. It became obvious that trauma does a number on people, regardless of the setting it’s experienced in.
I just happened to be listening to this podcast right before the reading, but it served as a perfect foreword. Just as a drug dealer can experience the same post-traumatic symptoms as a war veteran, a journalist can experience the same (or similar) problems that face a war veteran, or a car accident victim, or a witness to domestic abuse, I discovered. The podcast retroactively corroborated what I learned about trauma in the reading.
Of course the problem, as the Simpson/Coté reading discusses, becomes how to help journalists deal with traumatic coverage. They suggested that newsrooms consider having a counselor or similar personnel on hand for the staff’s benefit. I don’t doubt that this would be extremely beneficial, especially if newsroom staffers took advantage of it. But I began to doubt how practical of a solution it was. Is it very likely that in this era when print publications are pinching every penny they would hire an additional employee for a new position, one that would probably have to be generously compensated? Again, I think this is a great solution, but I have a hard time believing it would get put to use any time soon.
It seems that finance might be a roadblock for solving the puzzle of how to deal with trauma affecting journalists. Not only because newspapers may be reluctant to hire a counselor, but also because the violent content itself is what some publications might be tempted to rely on more and more as financial stability becomes a distant memory for many newspapers. If it bleeds it leads. As the reading says, “violence is the currency of the competition.” Helping journalists deal with trauma is already a difficult enough task; hopefully money doesn’t make it harder.