Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Aurora shooting panel provides look at mental health

~Written by Alex Hubbard
Emily West contributed to this article.
For every disaster, there is a journalist who must cover it, and dealing with those after effects was the subject of a Wednesday panel.
Moderated by Carole Tarrant of the Roanoke Times, the panel featured Associated Press editors from Denver and Kansas City, a Denver Post editor and the former executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma.
“We heard early today from a very inspiring Pulitzer panel about how to do journalism,” Tarrant said. “This is the flip side of that is how to take care of those people who do that.”
Entitled “Lessons from Aurora,” the three editors all helped manage coverage of the Aurora, Colo. theater shooting.

Chris Clark, Associated Press News Editor, responds to audience questions.
~Photo by Matt Masters
Though each editor viewed the event from a different vantage point, they were left with a common problem: how to manage their reporters in order to ensure quality work and maximum personal health.
Chris Clark, an AP editor from Kansas City, inherited one of the toughest tasks when he flew in to Denver to relieve Jim Anderson, the news editor in Denver, who had worked for an uninterrupted month as much of the West experienced wildfires.
Clark had commanded a newsroom in a time of disaster before, when a tornado struck Joplin, Mo., but this was something completely different.
“I was this interloper that had to do things, and so I did kind of the same thing,” Clark said. “I said, ‘Look, let me take 90 seconds of your time. I’m not Jim, but I am the news editor.’”
Clark asked the staff to remain flexible, but also to know when to take breaks while dealing with a long-term story.
It was a good tactic, said Bruce Shapiro of the Dart Center.
The panel consisted of Chris Clark, Associated Press News Editor, Jim Anderson, Associated News Editor Colorodo, Montana and Wyoming, Kevin Vaughan, Senior editor Denver Post, Bruce Shapiro, Executive Director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, and moderator Carole Tarrant, Editor of the Roanoke Times.
~Photo by Matt Masters
“Good management actually really matters,” Shapiro said. “Peer support really matters. Your journalists who are most at risk will be those who become isolated from one another, who are not talking to one another or to managers.”
Shapiro and Anderson advocated creating a plan not just to deal with the disaster itself, but also to deal with how to handle those who cover the disaster.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation developed a peer-support plan to help journalists create a strong network among coworkers, Shapiro said.
Despite a focus on reporters, photographers are not exempt from emotional backlash.
“Several studies show that photographers appear to be at somewhat greater risk for PTSD while covering the same assignment,” Shapiro said. “Now we don’t know why that is.”
He recommended allowing photographers to put together photo and multimedia presentations in order to sequence the photos to invoke the psychological coping mechanism though sorting them out into a logical set of events.
However, covering tragic events can sometimes blend into journalists’ personal lives, as Kevin Vaughn, senior news editor of The Denver Post, experienced this summer during the Aurora shootings.
“My friend Tom Sullivan lost his child that day,” Vaughan said. “Sitting in the newsroom that night, realizing the picture of my friends was going to be our art just as they were realizing what was going on, I didn’t know what I thought about it. I was so emotionally drained from my personal experience that I couldn’t really think like a journalist. “
Vaughan went home that night to visit his friend and his family. For the next couple days, Vaughan used his previous experience from other incidents, such as the Columbine shootings, to help coordinate with other editors and devise a coverage plan. 
“It was a very weird thing, and I’ve never experience anything like it,” Vaughan said. “I have never covered anything like this.”

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