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Journalists working with images of violence at risk of trauma - study

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 7 Aug 2014 04:07 GMT
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Guests tour the "Acquisition Room", which receives television feeds from around the world, during the opening event for the new Univision and Fusion network newsroom in Doral, Florida, on August 28, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Skipper
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LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Journalists working with images of extreme violence are at risk of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, even when they are sitting in safe offices far away from the violence, researchers have found.

A decade ago, studies showed war journalists were more likely to experience symptoms of trauma than other journalists because of the impact of the personal dangers they experienced.

Now new findings indicate that frequent exposure to live images can also trigger symptoms of trauma, according to a survey of 116 journalists in three international news organisations, according to research published on Thursday in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine Open.

Many newsrooms have teams of journalists who sift through raw footage of violence sent in by the public – called user-generated content – and sanitise it for public broadcast. The more often they watch disturbing images, the more likely they are to suffer, the researchers found.

“Given that good journalism depends on healthy journalists, news organisations will need to look anew at what can be done to offset the risks,” said Anthony Feinstein, who led the team of researchers at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. “Reducing the frequency of exposure may be one way to go.”

It’s not so much the number of hours per shift that affects people, but how often they are exposed. Several times a week is the riskiest to journalists’ health, according to the study.

The corporate news culture has changed over the past decade, so reporters on the frontline are now more likely to be offered counselling.

The question now is how that same culture will respond to health issues caused by changes in the newsroom back home, which increasingly rely on live images supplied by the public.

"As both the newsroom and journalism evolve in response to a rapidly changing world, new healthcare challenges will present themselves," the report said.

(Editing by Alisa Tang: alisa.tang@thomsonreuters.com)

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