Trauma journalism requires sensitivity, judgment


With the recent tragedy occurring right here on the campus of University of Miami, I think it’s important to talk about one of the toughest jobs a journalist has to do: reporting a tragedy. The job is tough on countless levels. First, for the people who were affected by the tragedy, especially in the case of a death, many people do not even wish to have journalists present.

When a journalist does appear on a scene, the line that this journalist must walk when asking questions or investigating a situation is razor thin. In my opinion, when asking to talk to people who knew the victim, it is important to first show compassion for the situation. In high school, I was in a situation where a friend lost her life in a car accident. When a journalist arrived on the scene, the individual was less than sympathetic. Needless to say that reporter did not get any information from any of her family or friends and actually caused somewhat of a scene because he angered people so much.

This is a major issue in television journalism, however, with almost all news being online, journalists must be careful to remain sympathetic in situations that are not resolved and never jump to conclusions. The New York University School of Journalism ran a series of conversations with Spike Lee, one of the issues discussed was how journalism can impact the people involved with a tragedy. Watch Spike Lee’s view on the impact of trauma Journalism.

The other side of this issue is how journalists, who are supposed to be impartial at all times, report tragedies that clearly impact everyone. Examples of this include 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, or any other horrible event that can change the lives of thousands.

It is my opinion that, in these situations, trying to stay impartial can become transparent and fake. In many situations, readers do not need to hear from someone who is completely unaffected by an event. It is almost more important to show a human side in these situations in order to try and relate to a reader or viewer. The following video illustrates how journalists can show a human side of reporting while still remaining outside of the story. Trauma journalism’s potential impact on the journalist.

One of the points Spike Lee makes is that the way in which a journalist reports a story can change the lives of the people involved. This can be seen in the examples he gives but also in many other stories as well. In the case of the Duke University men’s lacrosse team accused of rape, many people portrayed the students as guilty before a trial and most of the evidence had come out. Many of those kids had to do a lot of work to repair their image for something that turned out to simply be a lie.

In situations such as these, it is important that reporters not only focus on the issue, details, and certifiable facts of a story, but also the impact the story will have on all of the stakeholders.

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