Academic Journalism

Journalists, trauma and growth

What’s it like to witness trauma day in, day out? To believe you’ve become an ’emotional vampire’? What are the costs of PTSD and moral injury and how can we learn from those who’ve observed horror, suffered and grown after trauma?

Sian Williams spent years researching this subject, hearing from journalist colleagues, both in broadcast and print. Her peer-reviewed study has now been published in the highly-respected academic journal ‘The European Journal of Psychotraumatology’.

HIGHLIGHTS

• This is the first study examining PTSD and post-traumatic growth (PTG) in UK journalists experiencing work-related trauma with personal risk.

• Those in war zones showed more PTSD symptoms and higher PTG.

• Journalists called for time and support to reflect after traumatic events.

ABSTRACT

Background: Journalists covering traumatic news events can develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, they may also experience perceived post-traumatic growth (PTG). The outcome may be affected by whether work-related traumatic stress has a degree of personal risk.

Objective: To investigate the relationship between PTSD symptoms and PTG among journalists who experienced work-related trauma and to examine whether positive associations would exist between exposure to personal risk and PTG.

Method: A web-based survey measuring post-traumatic stress symptoms and post-traumatic growth was completed by print and broadcast journalists (N = 69) working for UK-based media organizations. An open-ended question asked participants how media organizations can help to promote growth after work-related trauma.

Results: The findings show a significant relationship between PTSD symptoms and PTG (p = 0.04). Journalists working in war-zones had significantly more PTSD symptoms (p < .001) and PTG scores (p < .001) than those who did not. Journalists who described their worst, work-related trauma as having a degree of personal, life-threatening risk, also reported higher levels of PTG than those who did not (p < .001). This was consistent across all PTG subscales.

Conclusions: This study, the first to examine PTSD symptoms, personal risk and post-traumatic growth within journalists, suggests those working in conflict areas experience significantly higher levels of post-traumatic stress and post-traumatic growth, than those who do not. Those who experience personal risk also had high PTG levels. Media companies can help develop PTG by recognizing when personal risk plays a role in covering demanding assignments. Participants suggested organizations also needed to allow sufficient time for reflection and meaning-making for all those working in hostile environments.

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/20008198.2021.1881727