— Steve Buttry (@stevebuttry) May 15, 2014
This is a guest post from Scott Blanchard of the York Daily Record/Sunday News (speaking in my crooked Twitter photo above). I’ll post more about the training tomorrow.
In December 2012, dozens of journalists from Digital First Media newsrooms came together in Newtown, Conn. to cover the mass shooting there for news organizations across the country.
Many returned deeply affected by what they had seen, heard, written and photographed.
The following spring, photojournalist Jason Plotkin and Sunday editor Scott Blanchard of the York Daily Record/Sunday News — which had sent seven staffers to Newtown* — asked Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma executive director Bruce Shapiro if Dart could work with DFM to create something that would be a first for a U.S.-based news organization: A company-wide peer-support program for journalists who cover conflict and violence in their communities.
Shapiro loved the idea, and DFM supported it. And, earlier this month, about 20 journalists from DFM newsrooms on the East Coast gathered in West Chester, Pa. and spent two days with Shapiro. They learned best practices for trauma coverage and strategies to be resilient while covering difficult stories, and they started to plan how to bring structured peer-support into their newsrooms.
Dart has worked with the BBC and with the Australian Broadcasting Company to create peer-support programs for their journalists. But no U.S.-based organization has such a program. The DFM newsrooms’ goal is to train staffers to be available to their colleagues who have covered traumatic stories — to listen, to help them understand the normal human reactions they might have, and to help them recognize when their symptoms might require more than an attentive listener and essential social support.
Shapiro and Dart associate director Kate Black created a program designed to help prepare DFM’s journalists to more effectively work with people who are victims of trauma or traumatic moments and tell their stories; to provide tools to prepare journalists, as first responders, for what they’ll face emotionally in covering trauma on assignments; and to help themselves and their staffmates to become more resilient as they report on these difficult but vital stories.
Those who attended came from DFM newsrooms in Pennsylvania (York, Hanover, Chambersburg, Lebanon, Pottstown, Norristown, Lansdale, West Chester and Delaware County), and Connecticut (New Haven and Torrington), as well as Fitchburg, Mass., Bennington, Vt., and Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
At the end of the training, Shapiro asked participants for one-word descriptions of their state of mind following the two days. The answers included:
“Resilient.” “Aware.” “Enlightened.” “Hopeful.” “Encouraged.” “Inspired.” “Grateful.” “Confident.”
*This post was updated with the accurate number of York Daily Record journalists on scene in Newtown.