Hazards of ‘trauma journalism’ discussed
KARACHI, May 14: A veteran American journalist discussed the issues surrounding ‘trauma journalism’ at a lecture held here on Thursday at the Karachi Press Club. The lecture — which was attended by a number of media-persons Â– focussed on the technical and ethical aspects of working in disaster areas, at crime scenes and reporting other events involving varying degrees of death and destruction.
“Journalism is so incredibly important in Pakistan. You are at a crossroads; the practice of good journalism can be the tipping point in bringing positive change,” said Amy Herdy, who has spent around 20 years in print and electronic journalism. The award-winning journalist currently teaches at the University of Colorado at Boulder and is in Pakistan to conduct a workshop.
She said it if you intended to show pictures or footage of bodies, you must ask yourself what purpose will it serve. “Will it be sensationalist or will it be to show the horrors of a catastrophe?” She added that “the heat of the deadline makes making decisions difficult.” She suggested that down-time was ideal to discuss policy issues.
Ms Herdy said that journalists themselves were not immune from the horrors of covering traumatic situations, observing that the occurrence of post-traumatic stress disorder in journalists was a concern. “Take care of yourself. You can be harmed by the job you are doing. Self-care is very important if you want to do justice to a story.”
Amy Herdy said that instead of giving cold, hard statistics, giving details of human suffering made a story more effective. “That’s how we reach people — tug on their heart-strings.” She cautioned that one must be very careful while doing interviews in the field. “Don’t fire away questions, say Â‘thank you’ and walk away. Establish trust and establish rapport. This requires time. Do no harm. We don’t want to leave people worse than when we met them.”
She observed that journalists should not divorce themselves from the human angle of stories in adherence to a perceived sense of neutrality. “Be a human being first; be a journalist second. The story is first, but the story is about human beings. Treat them as human beings.”
Ms Herdy said that at the scene of a traumatic incident, people may give several different versions of what really happened due to the shock they might still be in. “You lose credibility very fast by [inaccurately] reporting death tolls. Verify facts from more than one source. All you have is your name. Once that is lost”, people will not trust you.