Knight Center
Knight Center


Stress, trauma silence journalists, says Bruce Shapiro of Dart Center on second day of 10th Austin Forum

The emotional consequences of chronic stress impact freedom of expression, said Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma during the opening session of the second day of the 10th annual Austin Forum on Journalism in the Americas. “Exhaustion and emotional crisis are as effective forms of censorship for silencing a journalist as jail sentences or a bullet," Shapiro said.

Because journalists from countries like Mexico and those in Central America are facing a seemingly never-ending wave of violence, the risks for journalists and their families are not abating and they can't just return to a state of normality. "This isn't about a post-traumatic situation but a constant flow of stress that takes a different toll on journalists," Shapiro explained.

For example, journalists might find trouble sleeping or concentrating, or experience anxiety and problems relating with others. The Dart Center offers warning signs for trauma among journalists, such as not being able to meet deadline or becoming irritated with family members.

When one's mind is filled with undesirable memories, journalists can suffer depression, and withdraw from their colleagues, families, and sources.

As such, the Dart Center has studied ways to manage stress and help journalists overcome traumatic situations. Having examples of people who have survived tragedies, having a sense of purpose in life, and a sense of communal solidarity help to maintain mental health, Shapiro explained. What's more, obtaining justice helps give victims and survivors of traumatic experiences a sense of control.

Shapiro also said that journalistic organizations should work on various fronts at the same time, from bettering labor conditions and defending freedom of expression to training and protecting journalists. “Low salaries make journalists more vulnerable to corruption and threats. The lack of awareness of risks and the lack of training make journalists confront challenges without the correct tools and all this triggers a crisis of the press," Shapiro said.

The Dart Center has a new webpage in Spanish with information for Latin American journalists, such as a cellphone application to help manage stress.

Finally, Shapiro cited a 1939 manifest from French writer, philosopher and journalist Albert Camus, who faced a period in which he was repressed and censored by French authorities. “The question was how can a journalist maintain independence in spite of the censorship and repression." Camus determined that lucidity, refusal to serve lies, irony, and stubbornness/obstinacy are the four tools that can save free journalism.

See here for more coverage of this year's Austin Forum, May 20-22, themed "Safety and Protection for Journalists, Bloggers, and Citizen Journalists," and organized by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas and the Latin America and Media programs of the Open Society Foundations. More than just an annual conference, the Austin Forum is a network of organizations that focus on media development and training in Latin America and the Caribbean. Previous Forums have focused on such topics as Media Coverage of Migration in the Americas and Coverage of Drug Trafficking and Organized Crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.


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