Key Takeaways: Let’s Talk About Mental Health and Trauma in Journalism

Image: Roger H. Goun via Creative Commons license

In the wake of a pandemic, a presidential election, and civil unrest sparked by police violence, it is more important than ever that we take care of ourselves as we report on critical events in our city.

We invited Elana Newman, Ph.D., professor of psychology at The University of Tulsa and research director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, to provide some advice for how journalists can take care of both themselves and their sources on the job.

Here are some key takeaways from that training. If you weren’t able to attend, you can also watch the full training in the video below.

Consider this: 80-100% of all journalists experience trauma on the job, whether it’s from reporting on the scene, experiencing abuse and harassment or engaging with traumatized sources and communities.  

There are two main coping dimensions with stress: you can either change the issue (problem-focused coping) or change your own response (emotion-focused coping).  

Plan a self-care strategy for tough stories. If you know you’ll cover a political rally, for example, what do you do before, during, and after to relieve stress responses?  

Trauma-informed interviewing tips:

  • First, build rapport as a human being and be honest
  • Set ground rules and help the person anticipate the structure and timeframe of the interview, what “on the record” and “off the record” means, and what can happen when someone is covered in the news
  • Give choices and respect boundaries. Allow the person to feel more in control
  • Active, non-judgmental listening
  • Ask inviting questions
  • Don’t underestimate how your reactions can influence conversations
  • Avoid “why” questions because they can make the person feel shame or guilt
  • Never say you understand how they feel — you don’t
  • Be respectful
  • Ask yourself what you really need to know for your story. You may be able to ask another person for certain details to avoid hurting a traumatized person, especially if they are a child
  • Understand that with trauma, memory can be fractured. Let people tell their story at their own rate


Tragedies & Journalists

Leading Resilience: A Guide for Editors and News Managers on Working with Freelancers Exposed to Trauma

Covering Trauma: Impact on Journalists

Choosing a Psychotherapist

Journalists and Online Harassment

Dealing with Hate Campaigns: Toolkit for Journalists