In my Advanced Reporting class today, Tom Warhover brought up the topic of traumatic issues. We were supposed to spend the remaining 45 minutes of class discussing this issue. This piqued my interest, because I wanted to see how this class viewed the subject that we have spent the whole semester examining in the Covering Traumatic Events course.
But I didn’t want to spurt off all my knowledge and make everyone look bad now that I’m an expert in this subject. (I kid.) So I remained silent when Tom brought up the topic for discussion. Now, maybe it’s because it was only 10 a.m., but no one in the class had any comments to make. Everyone was very tentative to speak up and Tom was so blown away that he ended class then and there, because he wanted to have an dialogue among invested participants, not students being forced to talk. But I think Tom mistook our behavior for indifference and/or boredom when it was really something different.
Again, I could be wrong and maybe it was just the before-noon effect, but I think people generally don’t want to have this discussion, the self-selected crew of oddballs in our class notwithstanding. Traumatic events are not the happiest occasions (duh), but I doubt that journalists believe traumatic events (or the act of reporting on them) don’t merit discussion. Sometimes it’s just hard to get the ball rolling.
I believe this is another obstacle in the mission of Katherine and other journalism teachers to improve the way we cover traumatic events and improve the way institutions care for the journalists doing the coverage. It takes a push to get these talks started. For one, the inherently depressing subject matter doesn’t exactly lend itself to chattiness. And it’s not uncommon for people to need a strong nudge before they’re going to examine themselves, especially in a communal setting. But what’s worse is that it’s a vicious cycle. If we don’t have those discussions in the first place, we reduce awareness. And although, as I said, I’m sure if you asked a journalist on a true-or-false test whether or not this stuff was important, they’d fill in the bubble next to “true.” But they might not realize the severity of never having these talks.
No one wants to have the sex talk with their parents, but it (hopefully) happens anyway. Maybe we need to have that approach when it comes to the mental health of journalists in traumatic settings.