Reporters covering Katrina receiving trauma assistance
September 7, 2005 12:37 PM   Subscribe

The New York Times is offering Katrina reporters trauma counselling. Reporters covering warzones in Iraq, Chechnya and the Sudan were not offered near-mandatory trauma counselling by the newspaper of record.

Journalists in Lousiana and the rest of the Gulf Coast were.

"In fact, the circumstances were so shocking to reporters that according to one staff member, The New York Times e-mailed information about dealing with trauma to reporters in the field, outlining warning signs; employee-assistance counselors also placed calls to reporters."
posted by huskerdont (35 comments total)
Bad plan.

The latest research seems to indicate that offering people counselling in such circumstances may actually make it more likely that they end up with PTSD, and there's very little evidence that it helps at all.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:54 PM on September 7, 2005

I think reporters went to Iraq pretty much expecting to see some bad shit. And the fact that so many were "embedded" in one way or another meant that they didn't actually see much.

I'm not sure if the reporters who went to NO to cover the hurricane really expected to see what they saw.

There's also, unfortunately, the "over there" phenomenon, where reporters don't think about or report on people in foreign countries in quite the same way as at home.
posted by selfnoise at 12:54 PM on September 7, 2005

They need some ecstasy.
posted by delmoi at 1:05 PM on September 7, 2005

offered near-mandatory trauma counselling ?

does that mean anything?
posted by verisimilitude at 1:11 PM on September 7, 2005

offered near-mandatory trauma counselling ?

This must be a near-post
posted by CynicalKnight at 1:16 PM on September 7, 2005

Maybe the NYT board was concerned that their reporters were showing signs of "going native" ?

It's that detached, neutral, impartial, jocular, everything's-okay-here presentational style that gets mainsteam reporters hired.

You know, the style that makes mass death seem like an acceptable price for increased profits.

When that mask slips, journalists become a liability.
posted by cleardawn at 1:17 PM on September 7, 2005

cleardawn, you're like the lefty version of ParisParisimus.
posted by unreason at 1:40 PM on September 7, 2005

What does that make me, then?
posted by StrasbourgSecaucus at 1:42 PM on September 7, 2005

chopped liver?
posted by rks404 at 1:44 PM on September 7, 2005

posted by Cassford at 1:46 PM on September 7, 2005

"cleardawn, you're like the lefty version of ParisParisimus."

No. Don't even go there. He's not one of ours. Don't try to dump him on us. We'll play with one man short, but there's no way he's on our team. Make him waterboy or something.
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:47 PM on September 7, 2005

I've actually seen cleardawn drop the rhetoric and talk like a real person from time to time. Not so PP. cleardawn is the lefty Steve_at_Linwood, at absolute worst.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:54 PM on September 7, 2005

Is the reason (for some reporters getting counseling) maybe that the warzone reporters are supposed to be tough as nails true grit types, whereas the NYT board figured the journos down in NOLA were some sort of candyfloss style and cooking reporters or something?
posted by illovich at 1:56 PM on September 7, 2005

"the conditions were so shocking, it led people to emote more than [the] general professional standard in journalism.

Ah yes. The 'no emotion' professional standard. And whose interests does that serve, again?

"Sometimes the reporters were so far out ahead of the story that they found themselves ignoring official statements, instead filing reports of what they were seeing themselves. "

Far out. Imagine. So what do they normally do, exactly?

“In those situations, you don’t draw an imaginary line. You need to be a reporter, but also a human,” Ms. Dewan said.

And what does this say about NORMAL situations? You draw an imaginary line between Us and Them? You cease to be human, because you are a reporter with your "professional standards"?

“I’m a very controlled person. But at one point, I found myself stomping with my right foot on the pavement. I was talking to Bill O’Reilly about how people were sleeping on the highway, and I was going stomp, stomp, stomp with my foot on the pavement, as if that would help me get the message through this little video phone. I was surprised with myself.”

Perhaps we could do with a little more of that. It's not as if people sleeping on the street is a new thing in the USA.

I'll say it again: Mainstream journos are carefully chosen for their ability to present horrendous scenes of death and destruction, casually juxtaposed with extreme wealth, carelessness and waste, as if it was all perfectly normal and acceptable.

But even they are finding that they can't always keep the mask on straight.

Interesting article, I enjoyed deconstructing it.
Thanks huskerdont.
posted by cleardawn at 1:57 PM on September 7, 2005

As always, you can count on The Onion to brighten up even the darkest days. Well, done, Onion staff.
posted by ColdChef at 1:58 PM on September 7, 2005

Er. Well done, Onion staff.
posted by ColdChef at 2:00 PM on September 7, 2005

"A 2-year-old girl slept in a pool of urine,” he wrote in the Times, describing the scene at the Superdome a day before Mr. Bury had arrived. “Crack vials littered a restroom."

Perhaps the empty crack vials belonged to the NYT reporter? Perhaps that's why they need the counselling?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:02 PM on September 7, 2005

unreason, you're falling into the trap of left=right.

It doesn't.

Nor does saying "You're like bad person X" constitute a valid, amusing, or helpful criticism of someone's posts.

If you disagree with something I said, please point it out, then I can retract it (if it's wrong), or provide supporting evidence (if I still think it's right).

Or at least make a funny joke.

Thanks for your time.
posted by cleardawn at 2:07 PM on September 7, 2005

“Crack vials littered a restroom."

What is it about the crack dealers that allows them to keep their supply lines going when actual aid fails? Why not adopt this infallible Crack Dispersal system?
posted by NationalKato at 2:11 PM on September 7, 2005

Ah yes. The 'no emotion' professional standard. And whose interests does that serve, again?

Mine. I prefer my news delivered without emotion, and without reporters telling me how I should feel. I'll make that decision myself.
posted by rocket88 at 2:33 PM on September 7, 2005

“You can’t be around these people without just absorbing all of their angst,” he said. “The same questions cross my mind that cross everyone else’s mind. Like, how did it take a week? What the hell was going on with the federal government? Where was FEMA?

It is very disturbing that there was such a delay with relief efforts. Some of the media and politicians are saying that there is too much red tape, and that FEMA should not be part of the Department of Homeland Security.

No doubt in my mind that there is too much red tape. But "Homeland Security" also means preparedness for and security from natural disaster - hurricane, earthquake, etc.! I think they failed this test miserably.

And don't let the local government off the hook. I heard the Mayor of NO state in an interview that he wished "they would put him in charge". Huh? He's the Mayor, he was elected to office - he didn't need anyone to anoint him with any special powers. He was already "in charge" whether he knew it or not.

It goes to show that you can't, and shouldn't, depend too much on the government.
posted by VEBjr at 2:34 PM on September 7, 2005

In some cases, the unusual reporting environment allowed journalists in both print and television to exercise muscles that had long grown stiff.

“In some ways, it’s refreshing in a way to not have the official line, where your only choice is just to see it in front of you,” said The New York Times’ Kate Zernike, who drove from Atlanta to Gulfport, Miss., last Tuesday and is now back in New York. “We’ve all gotten used to doing Google searches and so forth. This was the unfiltered experience. It’s just the story in front of you.”
Well, gosh! I'm so glad you finally got off your ass and had to do some journalism! Gee, this has been a valuable learning experience for you! Maybe now you can get hired by a real newspaper. Oh, yeah. Whoops.

All sarcasm aside, I think this paragraph just about sums up the state of United States journalism today.
posted by norm at 2:41 PM on September 7, 2005

...and I have to admit it: I only just realized that whole fucking article is a spoof.

The levels of snark within snark could drive a man crazy, they could.

Still... looking back on it, all the comments I made still seem to stand up as quite accurate, and I'm sure I won't be the only one to make that mistake.

Er, well done, er, New York Observer staff. Am I being sarcastic? I'm just not sure.

Give me the truth, any day.

Sarcasm without humor is just so bleh.
posted by cleardawn at 2:52 PM on September 7, 2005

Cleardawn: I'll say it again: Mainstream journos are carefully chosen for their ability to present horrendous scenes of death and destruction, casually juxtaposed with extreme wealth, carelessness and waste, as if it was all perfectly normal and acceptable.

Hmm. As a "mainstream journo," I almost want to take offense to this comment. But you may be right (regardless of whether the Observer story was a spoof). When I've had to cover fatal car accidents or other tales of total destruction, cops have been put off by my having a ... well ... reaction. And editors also seem to think it's good to put up a wall and to be able to "block out" the emotions that go along with seeing really terrible things.

If it makes you feel better, though, not all mainstream journalists are completely heartless. The fact that we're supposed to act like we are is a whole other story.
posted by brina at 3:33 PM on September 7, 2005

(regardless of whether the Observer story was a spoof)

it's not a spoof.

For more excellent media analysis, please check out the Poynter media blog run by Romenesko, which is, as always, doing a bang-up job. It's also where I first read this link.
posted by norm at 3:47 PM on September 7, 2005

cleardawn is bang on here, IMO. Excellent analysis.

brina, I feel that you misunderstand the type of reporting we are talking about. A fatal car-crash, and other such "accidental" tragedies, are the stuff where emotion is obviously valued in a reporter. These sorts of sentimental stories pepper much of our news media, certainly. The type we worry about, however, are stories of politics, where an emotional involvement always coincides with the taking of a side. The latter contradicts the objective ideal of journalism, and is thus verboten, and most of the emotion goes with it.

not all mainstream journalists are completely heartless.

Having seen the outbursts of Riviera and others, none of us disagree with this. But it's clear that what many of us observers consider a great leap forward in journalistic authority is seen by those in authority as a slip-up.

On a technical note: could you hit enter less, please, cleardawn? Just for the sake of easy reading.
posted by mek at 3:47 PM on September 7, 2005

- that first authority. journalistic quality. ahem.
posted by mek at 3:48 PM on September 7, 2005

unreason, you're falling into the trap of left=right. It doesn't.

Never said it does. What I said was that your tactics and style match PP's. You both, IMHO, rely on flame-like emotional posts rather than reason and substance.

Nor does saying "You're like bad person X" constitute a valid, amusing, or helpful criticism of someone's posts.

A fair criticism. See my critique of your comments below.

If you disagree with something I said, please point it out

You seem to object to the idea that reporters should lack emotion. This betrays a lack of understanding as to what a reporter is supposed to do. A reporter's job isn't to sympathise with your sadness and pain. His job is to deliver facts, not feelings. When telling the news comes in second to your feelings, you get something like Fox News, where the network tells you what they think, rather than what is. Obviously, reporters are human, and will show some emotion. But if they let their emotions get the best of them, they have difficulty doing their job. As an example, we all feel upset when someone we know has a dangerous illness. But when we have a surgeon operate on us, we expect that he will put aside his fear and pain in order to do the best possible job. To do less might cause him to be distracted, and thus to increase the chance of failure. Reporting is a lot like that. A reporter needs to keep his mind clear, so that he can observe everything that is going on around him.
posted by unreason at 4:00 PM on September 7, 2005

What pisses me off about the news is that once the pug faced journalist has finished making an effort to appear impartial and objective -- its the bastard weather reporter's turn to come bouncing on and tell me its going to be a 'beautiful morning, and a really loverly afternoon.' Its as if one half of the newsroom has decided that they can treat the science of metrology as subjectively as they like, while the other half has decided that the complexities of humanity are to be approached with all the compassion of a forensic examination.

posted by verisimilitude at 4:03 PM on September 7, 2005

That sure was an odd pullquote from a long article. Though I admit most of it has already been discussed using other examples. Also, there wasn't much to support the "near-mandatory" claim.

Shocking that a reporter was almost carjacked right in front of a guard platoon. The bit about the women screaming for water was the part that I'm not sure I'd be able to live with myself after.
posted by dhartung at 4:24 PM on September 7, 2005

brina, I wasn't attacking you. Or others in your job.

All I'm talking about is the Hermann-Chomsky filter.

The reason folks like you and me tend to get passed over for that job as Fox News Senior Foreign Correspondent is because we're too emotional - we lack the instinct for sycophantic 'professional standards' that senior Fox correspondents have. (That and laziness, natch!)

Even their most square-jawed reporters broke down in this Katrina mess, and revealed their underlying basic human goodness. They're not ogres, just carefully selected human beings - and they're not the ones who set the criteria.

Forgive me if my comments sounded like a personal attack. It's the system I hate -- I try to love the people in it. :-)
posted by cleardawn at 5:07 PM on September 7, 2005

For all the people harping on him, I think that this time, cleardawn definetly has a damn good point.

Nowhere near a lefty-ParisParamus.

He may be a Marxist, but that doesn't make him a Moron.
posted by blasdelf at 6:07 PM on September 7, 2005

The point is not for journalists to be emotionaless drones that are cold to the suffering (or joys) of others, but to be impartial as possible. Sometimes, especially over the last few years, this ends up giving politicos the ability to manipulate the press because their fear of losing that impartial balance, of seeming one sided means the press is more likely to report a partly line as fact rather than saying "that sounds absurdly false!" But the ideal is just, they want their viewer to decide for themselves (I said the journalists, not necessarily the network).

They need to balance being impartial and questioning what information they receive better than they have in the past - as its obvious the Bush spin machine has taken advantage of their impartiality. However, as several have said; I don't want journalists telling me what to think, making the "emotionaless" journalist a necessary evil.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 6:13 PM on September 7, 2005

Geraldo got all the attention, but watching Shepard Smith in that video was mesmerizing. He is the archetype of the reporter cleardawn is talking about, and he's falling apart in real time.

The latest postcast of To The Point has a great interview with the BBC correspondant covering New Orleans, who was there before the swarm of Americans, and so was more prepared for basic things like gas. From his description, it sounds like a lot of reporters were just dropped off, and no one could work without power, so you're just stuck there, and supplies are spotty, and there are dead bodies floating in the water, and apparently the flooded areas reek of death like you wouldn't believe.
posted by mkultra at 8:42 PM on September 7, 2005

This experience was pretty traumatic:
I did not actually count the number of automatic weapons pointed at me, but there were at least five, and I was certain they were all locked and loaded, or whatever that military phrase is signifying that a gun is ready to blow a hole in somebody.

“Step out!” commanded the black-helmeted man in the middle of what appeared to be a tactical formation. He was pointing a laser-like flashlight attached to his machine gun at me.
“I’m a journalist working for The San Francisco Chronicle,” I said quickly, trying to remain calm. “I’m out here because the signal …”

“Step out here!” he interrupted, and his tone suggested that the consequences for not stepping out into the street would be dire. I stepped out.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:56 PM on September 8, 2005

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