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PODCAST: Reporting on traumatic events like 9/11

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Posted at 4:59 PM, Sep 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-10 17:59:25-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Journalists are professional eyewitnesses to traumatic events, and that is especially true of 9/11.

“Journalists are professional witnesses, as I see it, and in the fields of trauma in the field of psychology and mental health, for police, for firefighters, has always been a recognition that the impact of bearing witness on death and tragedy can have an impact on that person, and affect both their personal life and their occupational health, their ability to do their jobs,” Elena Newman, a clinical psychologist with the Dart Center for Trauma and Journalism, said. “That has been less so recognized in the field of journalism.”

Professional journalists witnessed some harrowing and gruesome images during 9/11, and they had to make some tough ethical decisions about publishing the images of 9/11.

This field of journalism is called trauma reporting. Newman said trauma reporting is “about reporting on topics that have to do with life threat, or sexual violence or physical threat.”

Jo Healey, a BBC reporter and author of Trauma Reporting: A Journalist's Guide to Covering Sensitive Stories, is also an expert on reporting on traumatic events. She wrote her book as a guide to reporters on how to talk to people who have experienced trauma.

The field of trauma reporting and the discussion behind it have changed a lot in the past 20 years, according to Healey.

“I mean, even in the last 18 months, COVID has changed a lot. It's thrown sensitive reporting under the spotlight,” Healey said. “My perception is that 20 years ago, I'd have been laughed out the newsroom if I suggested that we ought to have training and how to work with vulnerable interviewees.”

Healey hosts sessions with journalists and journalism companies to discuss trauma reporting. She said newer journalists should talk to more seasoned reporters about their experiences, so that newer journalists can learn from their experiences.

In the final episode of KSHB 41 News’ five-part podcast mini-series about the 20th anniversary of 9/11, digital producers Casey Murray and Katharine Finnerty will explore how the field of journalism has changed, and listeners will hear from KSHB 41 News Anchor Cynthia Newsome about her experience reporting on 9/11.