The Dart-Nieman Collaboration

The ongoing collaboration between the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma and the Nieman Foundation continues to provide Nieman Fellows with training on what it means to apply the trauma lens to journalism – from education on self care and peer support for journalists to sessions on how to interview traumatized individuals to what every reporter should know about acute stress, PTSD and resilience.

With projects that reach out to alumni as well as other journalists worldwide, our trauma journalism program is also building structures and support systems that can bring trauma resources to Nieman alumni in need, and that foster a more systematic inquiry into how trauma narratives are formed, individually and collectively, in the aftermath of tragic events around the world.

The Dart-Nieman collaboration also delivered a good example this year of how seemingly separate Nieman programs collaborate and bring connections and resources to Harvard and to Nieman Fellows and the communities they cover: For the conference on Press Freedom in Latin America, which featured many current and former Latin American Nieman Fellows, the Nieman Foundation collaborated with the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. This partnership brought the trauma lens to the conversation and allowed Marcela Turati, a Mexican journalist and 2011 Dart Center Ochberg Fellow, to join a panel and bring the current plight of Mexican journalists to the attention of all involved.

The event helped the attending Latin American journalists and participants from the Carr Center, the Dart Center and the Nieman Foundation build new relationships and discuss ways to support journalists who cover the ongoing violence, abuses of power and human rights violations on the continent.

Fellows’ Seminars and Support

As happens every year, Nieman’s trauma journalism workshop with the class of 2012 unearthed some difficult questions.

If you are an editor sending colleagues on difficult assignments and see that one of your reporters is affected by what he has witnessed, what do you do?

If there is a sexual abuse scandal in your community involving minors, how would you interview those children? Would you even try?

If you are virtually “embedded” with the leaders of the Arab Spring in a chat room and some are killed in the middle of an online conversation with you, can you be traumatized even though you were not there?

Again this year, we were fortunate to benefit from the extraordinary commitment to this subject of renowned psychiatrist Dr. Frank Ochberg, a co-founder of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, and award-winning investigative reporter Bruce Shapiro, who is executive director of the center. Both have spent the past 15 years working with journalists and trauma experts around the world on evidence-based, innovative, practical solutions to difficult challenges.

Kristen Lombardi, an investigative reporter with the Center for Public Integrity and a 2012 Nieman Fellow, shared with her class what it meant to have had access to this kind of education. Lombardi was a 2003 Dart Center Ochberg Fellow and applied what she had learned in that one-week training, but also what she discovered from Shapiro and Ochberg in later conversations when researching campus rape and interviewing 50 victims for her series "Sexual Assault on Campus: A Frustrating Search for Justice."

Lombardi is now a frequent speaker on the subject of ethical interviewing of trauma victims and the challenges of covering bias-laden ‘he said-she said’ events. She emphasized that for her, the Dart program was not so much about self care but about ethical conduct as a reporter and about navigating emotional landscapes in her writing as she approached such difficult subjects as rape and child abuse. Lombardi and her team won a 2011 Dart Award for the campus rape series.

Further training for the class of 2012 will include a trauma interview workshop and connections to the Dart Society, a group of journalists (some of them former Nieman Fellows and affiliates) devoted to compassionate and ethical coverage of trauma, conflict and social injustice.

In addition, the Dart-Nieman collaboration provides individual fellows with support and resources as needed.

One example of how fellows can build on the opportunities provided by our trauma journalism program is provided by 2010 Nieman Fellow Beth Macy. After receiving a reporting grant from the Dart Society in the summer of 2010 to report for her paper, The Roanoke Times, on the cholera epidemic in Haiti, Macy applied for and won a 2011 Ochberg Fellowship, which allowed her to deepen her understanding of trauma reporting. She describes the impact of the training here.

The Dart-Nieman Country Workshop Project

The Dart-Nieman Country Workshop Project is a new initiative that will bring resources to countries that have experienced repeated trauma and have a strong Nieman alumni base interested in hosting and locally developing such a training opportunity. Planning is successfully moving ahead for programs in both Mexico and South Africa to run in 2012. Those interested in supporting or hosting this important outreach program may contact the foundation for more information.

The Aftermath Journalism Project

Why do words so often fail to express the impact of terror, tragedy and disaster? What does it take for survivors to tell their stories — and what does it take for journalists to listen effectively and retell those stories truthfully? What role do journalists play in the process of finding narratives, meaning, and justice in the face of atrocity? And what can journalists learn from artists and academics about narrating stories of trauma, recovery and resilience?

These are some of the questions we hope to answer via the Aftermath Journalism Project, a long-term inquiry into trauma narratives that is concerned solely with storytelling, rather than the emotional impact on the storyteller or interview techniques.) The goal of this project is to develop insightful, instructive materials for reporters, editors and journalism schools discussing common mistakes, misunderstandings and best practice examples of trauma narratives.

As a first step, the Nieman Foundation will host a one-day conference in 2012 taking a closer look at how journalism tells stories of rape and sexual assault. This will include historic perspectives, changes in narratives over time, and cross-cultural viewpoints. Please let us know if you have questions about this program or would like to participate.

Stefanie Friedhoff
Nieman Special Projects Manager
2001 Nieman Fellow