The trauma you cover

Journalists and Trauma,

How to Cover it and How it Impacts You 

CHICAGO — Frank Ochberg, a psychiatrist and founder of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma writes that “after a murder, a rape, or the bombing of a building, there is a story to be told” but that “the way we gather the facts and broadcast the news has important implications for all concerned.”


Ochberg talked about this at the panel discussion ‘Journalists and Trauma, How to Cover it and How it Impacts You” held yesterday at Loyola University in downtown Chicago.


The discussion focused on the way people are covering death, rape and tsunamis, interviewing the families of victims and writing the stories of warriors that are coming back.


Julia Lieblich joined him. She’s an award-winning human rights journalist, a former religion writer for the Chicago Tribune and now assistant professor of journalism at Loyola University. So did Jeff Kelly Lowenstein, president of the Dart Society and Investigative Editor for Hoy Newspaper.

The event was organized by the Chicago Headline Club and moderated by WGN reporter Randi Belisomo.


Ochberg explained what PTSD and traumatic memory, giving examples from his experience. He also recommended that when reporters have to talk to the families of victims, “don’t be apologetic, don’t say I’m sorry for being here.” He said “people would not want an inexperienced reporter there, they want a professional.” Also, in those cases, it’s better to “go to the facts questions in the beginning,” never ask “how do you feel” or other questions that only “feed the tragedy.”


Julia Lieblich talked about her experiences when interviewing survivors of trauma, torture and priest sex abuse.


“I can’t promise them that they will for sure like what will come out in print, there is no guarantee that the person will like it,” she said. To watch a video of her comments, go here


Also, you can read the article Three Acts of Trauma News.


Jeff Kelly Lowenstein gave tips for reporters, on how to cover this kind of stories. To watch, go here


He also explained the purpose of the Dart Society, a group that wants to connect and support journalists worldwide, who cover of trauma, conflict and social injustice. 


Ochberg, who founded the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma  explained that journalists that have PTSD don’t deal well with deadlines and that some of them have anger management issues.


A person from the audience, a first-reponder nurse and photographer, asked where reporters and photographers covering these issues can go for debriefing and releasing.


“Is there some where for us to turn to?” she asked.

Ochberg recommended again looking into the Dart Society and he also mentioned the film When Helping Hurts.