Reporting on the current bushfire crisis is stretching the media profession in many directions. Every resource and reporter is being called in to action to cover this immense story. The other side to this story is the physical and emotional wellbeing of not just of the victims and survivors but of those gathering, editing and leading the charge to get the news out to the consumer.

Looking after your interviewees, yourself and your staff during this story is not a soft option or nice to do — it is good business which will get you a better story, as well as being humane.

With some basic self care and duty-of-care reporters will be clearer and have more endurance. Sensitivity and respect towards the survivors will not only lessen their already overwhelming distress, but they will trust you more and give you a better interview.

Basic tips for Managers and COS’s during the story:

  • Remind staff that distress from trauma exposure is a normal human reaction and not weakness. It may even inform their reporting. Signs of distress should not be a determinant for the next assignment
  • Ensure you have updated lists of personal emergency contact numbers for those in the field
  • Remember that picture and film editors, sound recordists, etc will be also exposed to potentially traumatic material.
  • Maintain regular contact with your staff on assignment
  • Give words of encouragement and watch criticism — people’s sensitivities are heightened when exposed to trauma
  • Healthy eating and sleep are vital
  • Encourage staff that if they are feeling distressed not to hide it. Such responses are not abnormal, they’re human, and it is neither weak, unprofessional nor career-threatening to acknowledge them
  • Consider rotation or withdrawal of a highly distressed person, but remember to discuss your reasons with them and do it sensitively
  • Maintain newsroom contact with partners or families
  • Remind them that any distress is a typical human response following trauma exposure — explain that most
  • Remember that you are also part of the ‘ripple effect of trauma’. Notice your own emotions and don’t be surprised if you also feel some of the above symptoms or others that seem out of the ordinary.

Reporters on the job:

  • Understand that distress in the face of tragedy is a normal human response — not weakness. Most people recover soon enough
  • Ensure proper eating, hydration and sleep. All these can effect journalistic judgement
  • Get some exercise if you can. Even a walk helps break down “stress chemicals” in the body
  • Take breaks — and encourage others to. This assists integration of material and enables clarity
  • Acknowledge your feelings. Understanding feelings informs your journalism and helps you process trauma
  • Talk to others. Take time to reflect on what you are witnessing and how you are responding and, if possible, talk about it with colleagues. Share your thoughts
  • Call home. Maintain contact with loved ones and peers
  • Make decisions in the moment and don’t ruminate about “what if’s”. Reassess later if necessary
  • Don’t look at grotesque images too long
  • Look out for others in your team
  • Know your limits. Request rotation if needed. Take a break from the story — it will still be there
  • Camera operators — maintain contact with the desk as well as fellow photographers/camera operators for feedback and ideas. Don’t dwell on missed opportunities
  • Camera operators — use the ritual of organising your equipment at the end of each day as a “destress” activity.

Interviewing distressed survivors:

  • Please never ask someone “how they feel” — it should be obvious
  • Always declare who you are and ask permission for an interview
  • Traumatised people have lost power and trust — in the world in general — restoring this will give you a better interview and help them. Ask them where they would like to do the interview; is there anyone they want as support with them during the interview? Anything that helps restore their sense of control will assist both of you
  • Spread around the interviews within a community. Focussing on one person can create schisms within a small community
  • Don’t be scared by high emotion. If someone is highly distressed just calmly ask them do they want to continue — often they do, but don’t assume either.

For further information contact the Dart Centre Australasia — 0419131947.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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