“Dirty Little Secret”

What the news business is not saying about the effects of trauma on journalists

The Documentary can be found on Vimeo

(Due to graphic nature – please request password via email)

In the news business we live by an unofficial creed: If it bleeds… it leads.  Big news is almost always bad news.  But in our comfortable lives, the closest most of us will ever get to the worst the world offers is reading about it or watching it on TV.  We rely on journalists on the front lines of conflict to witness atrocity and present it in neartly sanitized packages.  But, have you ever stopped to consider what  that steady diet of horror does to them?
Even with trauma and PTSD now part of our national vocabulary journalism remains a hold-out industry, still skeptical and in denial about the legal and ethical responsibility to the mental health of employees.  Not every journalist is as think-skinned as the industry expects us to be.  Two-thirds admit having an intense emotional reaction while assignment, yet tears rarely make it to the surface.  We’re good at repressing emotion, afraid to be labeled a wimp or worse, yanked from a big story.  As a result, we’re seeing the same post-trauma symptoms suffered by police officers and combat soldiers, yet our emotional health is often ignored and misunderstood.  The result can be tragic: burnout, addiction, broken relationships and occassionally, suicide.
In our quest to remain objective, have journalists distanced themselves so far from their own emotions that stories lack context, compassion, even credibility?  When we filter the uncomfortable truth to protect the public are we instead misguiding public opinion?  While we serve as the worlds eyes and ears — who is watching out for us?
Those are questions this documentary aims to answer.  It’s an hour-long piece I produced, shot, wrote and edited as my thesis for Columbia University.  The program also examines new research looking at whether journalists can suffer from PTSD or other trauma-related disorders, and whether news organizations have a responsibility to care for the mental health care needs of journalists they send into the field.

Interviews include:

Photojournalist Mike Kamber – The New York Times

Photojournalist David Handschuh – New York Daily News

Chris Cramer – Reuters

Photojournalist Antonin Kratochvil – VII Agency

Santiago Lyon – The Associated Press

Dr. Anthony Feinstein – University of Toronto

Professor Judith Matloff

Karen Petersen – Freelance Writer & Photographer

Reporter Anna Song – KATU

Reporter Alyson Outen – KTVB

KATU Staff & Friends




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