Winter 2009 | Online Exclusives

Trauma in the Aftermath

Reporting in the aftermath of tragedy and violence, journalists discover what happens when people survive crippling moments of horror. Pushing past what is formulaic and numbing, they find ways to craft stories where the touch is raw and real. In this issue of Nieman Reports, journalists are joined by trauma researchers and survivors themselves in telling their stories in their own voices. We invite you to listen in. – Melissa Ludtke, Editor

Aftermath | Journalists’ Stories
By Melissa Ludtke, Editor
In an Instant, a Bomb Claims Lives and Devastates a Survivor
‘Every part of him was taped and bandaged because of burns and infections, except for his cheeks … his mouth … and his eyes …’
Book Excerpt by David Finkel
When Murder Strikes a Small Community
‘What is a news organization’s responsibility to its reporters who are eyewitness to murder? Can an editorial staff experience depression or long-term PTSD as a result of such exposure?’
By Don Corrigan
Tears Are Part of Telling the Story (12 comments)
‘That day in the bedroom Gary asked the questions; he fought the urge to cry. He did his job.’
By Mike Walter
Shooting War: A Photographer’s Vision (3 comments)
An Essay in Words and Photographs
By Marcus Bleasdale
When They Come for Us
‘… when you are compelled to leave your … family, your work, your country, and your life as you knew it, that’s when you realize you cannot give up. You have to do more, you have to speak louder, write bolder. And now, it’s personal.’
By Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunge
Manipulator or Human Rights Facilitator?
A journalist involved with the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s radio coverage of that country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission describes how it was done and why decisions made about its approach matter.
By Antjie Krog
The Iraqi Shoe-Thrower: When Endangered Journalists Need Help
‘I wonder how different things would have turned out if I could have found help for al-Zaidi. If assistance came sooner for his possible post-traumatic stress, maybe the shoe-throwing incident would not have taken place.’
By Jerome Aumente
Altruism’s Rise in the Wake of Disaster
By Jan Gardner
Women War Correspondents: They Are Different in So Many Ways (1 comment)
‘It is not by chance that these women have gravitated to the frontlines of war.’
By Anthony Feinstein and Mark Sinyor
Aftermath | Conveying Complexity
The Conference | Covering Violence and Tragedy
By Melissa Ludtke, Editor
Bringing What’s Buried in Folders to Life
‘The closer I felt to these people, the more attention I paid to details—to timelines, to chronologies, to what kind of food they ate, what kind of medication they were on, and at what time they’d done something.’
Panel members: Julia Reynolds, Miles Moffeit, Arnessa Garrett, Paul McEnroe
When a Crime Is Just the Beginning of the Story
By establishing relationships of trust with those touched by crime, reportiers discover and imtimacy of throught and emotion that can assist healing—for individuals and for communities.
Panel members: Julia Reynolds, Rachel Dissell, Luis Rodriguez
Strategies for Reporters Coping With Stress
By Julia Reynolds
Forming Connection, Finding Comfort
An Essay in Words and Photographs
By Donna De Cesare
Trauma in New Orleans: In the Wake of Katrina
Journalists and a poet explore this story’s intimacy, its emotional power, and its cultural significance.
Panel members: Jed Horne, Brett Myers, Jiarra Jackson, Larry Blumenfeld, Patricia Smith
Aftermath | Voice and Language
Approaching Emotional Pain—As a Journalist (1 comment)
‘Routinely we witness the awful things that people do to each other and the most enduring awfulness of all, the aftermath.’
Panel members: Pete Hamill, Elana Newman, Jonathan Shay
When Language Fails Us
‘… truth is not at all lovely and not at all reconcilable with the military communiqués of war correspondence.’
Panel member: Alexander McFarlane
How to Do an Interview—When Trauma Is the Topic (1 comment)
‘It’s just a totally different landscape when dealing with someone who’s been traumatized. They don’t know the rules, and what’s so essential in these interviews is to give the person choices about a whole host of things …’
Panel members: Ruth Teichroeb, Karen Brown, Mike Walter
A Journalist and a Survivor (1 comment)
‘If I can give advice to journalists, I suggest it’s all about relationships.’
Panel members: Julia Lieblich, Esad Boškailo
Narratives—With Trauma at Their Core
‘There’s a kind of emotional insight that a skilled writer with a great command of language and of the human condition brings to a story.’
Panel members: Constance Hale, Moni Basu, Scott North, Peter Davis
When War Ends: The Trauma That Remains
An Essay in Words and Photographs
By Lori Grinker
Toxic Storytelling: When Trauma Is Sensationalized (1 comment)
Panel member: Richard Mollica
Aftermath | Purposeful Storytelling
Visual Storytelling About the Human Condition (1 comment)
‘The tools are so powerful now that, as journalists, we can … be focused on doing the kind of journalism we want to do and then partnering with other organizations to get the word out.’
Panel members: Brian Storm, Glenn Ruga, Barbara Ayotte, Amy Hill
Connecting Threads of Individual Pain With Societal Responsibility
From Northern Ireland, Chile and Kosovo come stories of the struggle people have in healing from terror and torture when political accountability and reconciliation are absent.
Panel members: Jack Saul, Seamus Kelters, Marc Cooper, Anna Di Lellio
It Matters Who Tells the Story in the Middle East (2 comments)
‘The deliberate or unconscious dehumanization of Arabs is also reflected in the way they are portrayed on television. … selective images confirm the stereotype that Arabs are inherently violent.’
Panel members: Scheherezade Faramarzi, Bruce Shapiro
Aftermath | Digging for Meaning
Tugging Meaning Out of Trauma
‘The journalists, by telling the survivors’ stories, are a witness to the witness and they bring that story to the larger society.’
Panel members: Drew Gilpin Faust, Robert Jay Lifton, Jacki Lyden
In Search of an ‘Inside Narrative’
‘Very often, as journalists, we end up telling these kinds of outside narratives when we go to official sources for the most difficult and intimate stories.’
Panel member: Bruce Shapiro
Reporting the Iraq War: Whose Truth Is Being Told?
‘… I used to tell the American correspondent, “You know what, you’re writing my story. I’m writing my story. When we cover a car bomb, it’s my neighborhood.” For an American correspondent, it’s a story.’
Panel members: Hannah Allam, Abdul Razzaq al-Saiedi, Daniel Rothenberg
Telling Untold Stories of What Happened in Iraq (1 comment)
An Essay in Words and Photographs
By Kael Alford
Aftermath | Art and Trauma
Art and Literature: Guiding Journalists in Trauma’s Portrayal (2 comments)
‘… Nieman Fellows who’d been in the Balkans wanted to take courses in music, art, poetry, and other kinds of literature. I don’t think this happens arbitrarily.’
Panel members: E. Ann Kaplan, Rose Moss, Roya Hakakian
‘Entering Darkness’
Depicting an individual’s story leads viewers to awareness of a ‘generalized horror.’
By E. Ann Kaplan
Art and Trauma—And Journalist as Observer (1 comment)
‘We have to be inside of the circle to understand the conversation, to get down and dirty with the people who are making art, and still keep that distance by preserving our personal and professional space apart from them. That’s very important.’
Panel members: Chris Vognar, Alicia Anstead, Glenda Carpio
Words & Reflections
Media Criticism: Journalism vs. Advocacy
‘… press analysts who back up their judgments with reporting, research, style and wit’ earn praise, but it’s advocacy groups from both sides of the political spectrum who receive much of the attention.
By Dan Kennedy
Public Interest Policies for the Digital Age
A book-length exploration of digital media’s future fails ‘to address the core question: Where is the new public square?’
By Cameron McWhirter
The Important History News Organizations Have to Tell
By creating archives of company records ‘we can learn how the paper developed and organized itself, how editors and reporters approached stories, and how community leaders and ordinary citizens responded to them.’
By John Maxwell Hamilton and Valerie Komor
Curator’s Corner
Bolstering a Beat: A Nieman Fellowship for Business Journalism (1 comment)
‘This Reynolds fellowship is designed to help journalists acquire new levels of knowledge and understanding about business and economic systems.’
By Bob Giles
Letters to the Editor
Taking Issue with Jerry Kammer’s ‘Struggle to Be Heard’ on Immigration
Two Opposing Viewpoints—and Responses—on ‘Spies’ and I.F. Stone (1 comment)
Nieman Notes
Bringing the Wit and Wisdom of Molly Ivins to the Stage
Two journalists turned playwrights mine a mother lode of material in the writings of the acerbic political observer.
By Margaret Engel and Allison Engel
A Laid-off Journalist Charts a New Course via Social Media (29 comments)
Traveling the country, she and her family were inspired by hearing people’s stories of resilience in hard times.
By Andrea McCarren