Making Secondary Trauma a Primary Issue

“I basically turned into a man who could stand next to a dead body eating a ham sandwich. (..) It wasn’t till about six months later when I realized I really have a problem with it,” says Andy Carvin, and editor at Post traumatic stress disorder is nothing unusual. Today journalists have to deal with loads of unpleasant footage on daily basis. Murder scenes, violent videos and disturbing images are part of daily work.

Panel discussion happened in three stage process followed by questions from audience. First part was about trauma effect on individual, followed by dealing with trauma from management perspective, and coping mechanisms in trauma situations. Andy Carvin (editor, Sam Dubberley (co-founder Eyewitness Media Hub), Gavin Rees (director Dart Centre Europe) and Kate Riley (BBC news) were discussing mentioned issues.

“The body goes through automatic stress responses, which could involve massive rush of adrenaline, feeling very jittery, feeling of being attacked again. (..) The body doesn’t reset. It stays stuck on the alarm button. That can cause nightmares and other consequences,” explains Rees. In various newsrooms people consider that kind of information ordinary. And journalists are not always aware of what consequences might accrue after dealing with such footage. But not everyone necceserely develops post traumatic stress disorder. It can simply be an unpleasant effect that can be cured with more simple approach.

Journalists shared their experiences about dealing with trauma. Riley says BBC considers vicarious trauma a big issue: “There’s something about the volume of material people are looking at, something about surprise on social media, looking at things you’re not expecting to look at.” This issue applies to younger team members, who work a lot with social media. Carvin used to manage social media during Arab Spring and other violent conflicts. After that he developed fear from certain food that made his heart race. He unplugged from social media for more than a year. “People can do downhill very quickly, when they’ve become traumatized by certain footage. Everyone handles it differently,” he adds.

Dubbereley introduced everyone to research results. He believed them to be worrying, because it shows that most professionals deal with traumatizing footage at least once a week. People who work as headquarters today made a conscious decision not to be on front line about 20 years ago. Today because of social media, traumatic footage is inescapable. Full report can be found here:

“It’s managerial issue and an issue of structure of organization,” says Dubbereley. He believes that headquarters should take care of their team members by creating safe environment, teaching about traumatizing cases, and training for them. Within BBC there’s an organized structure for this problem. Riley adds, that it’s not only a managerial issue, it’s a shared one.

By: Anna Udre