Tragedy and Objectivity
By Rebecca Coates Nee
September 17th, 2001
Grief counselors are everywhere. Theyíre among the wreckage
in Manhattan and in the corridors of federal buildings, schools
and hospitals. Theyíll counsel the firefighters, the police
officers, the doctors, the witnesses and the survivors.
Theyíll tell reporters about the post-traumatic stress awaiting
those affected by this nationís tragedy.
And the reporters, photographers and producers will diligently
document and pass along every detail to the American public,
re-racking the video and the soundbites over and over again.
But who will be there for them?
Journalists seem to be the only segment of the population
who regularly witness manís inhumanity against man but are
never granted the same compassion and support afforded to
others working crime scenes.
Perhaps thatís because journalists are supposed to be objective
Ė even in the face of tragedy. Perhaps itís because journalists
are merely observers, not participants in rescue efforts.
Or, perhaps itís because those who employ journalists do not
fully recognize reporters as people too.
Even "routine" crime scenes take a toll on journalists over
time. When Ezra Marcus left his night-side reporting job at
an Orlando TV station to become an agent with N.S. Beinstock,
he realized he had repressed the shock of all he had seen.
"That was the most difficult part of making the transition,"
Marcus said, "coming to terms emotionally with eight years
of grief and suffering and trauma that I witnessed as a reporter."
Usually, reporters and photographers donít take enough time
to acknowledge how these events are impacting them. Adrenaline
gets them through the rush of the big story, but resources
are scarce for coping with the inevitable letdown and flashbacks
that follow. Possible long-term effects include depression,
anxiety and difficulty forming close relationships.
The University of Washingtonís Dart Center for Journalism
and Trauma, www.dartcenter.org,
is trying to help journalists cope with the horrors they witness
and deal more compassionately with the victims they interview.
They have posted numerous articles on the subject and opened
a message board for reporters struggling with grief.
Those of you covering the aftermath of Sept. 11th have an
enormous responsibility to the American public. But donít
forget your responsibility to yourself.
Donít be afraid to admit that you are indeed human first and
a reporter second. When you finally do get a day off, find
a trusted friend and talk to them honestly about what you
saw and felt. In the meantime, worry less about your performance
and care more about the people you are covering. Their lives
are now changed forever. And so is yours.