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Aftermath: Journalism, storytelling, and the impact of violence and tragedy

February 26-28, 2009

The Nieman conference “Aftermath: Journalism, storytelling, and the impact of violence and tragedy” was held at Lippmann House at the end of February, the third forum the Nieman Foundation has organized and hosted in collaboration with the Dart Foundation.

In the spirit of other Dart-funded projects, the conference was a highly synergistic event that brought together renowned writers, editors, reporters, photographers, filmmakers, artists, trauma researchers, poets, novelists, historians and others. They explored how trauma narratives are formed, individually and collectively, and how journalists report the emotional impact of violence, death and disaster on people’s lives.

Over two and a half days, more than 110 participants engaged in a frank discussion of what we do as humans and as journalists when we tell stories of trauma. In an intimate evening discussion, Harvard President Drew Faust and psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton talked with moderator and NPR host Jacki Lyden about “Life After Death: War, Memory and American Identity,” connecting experiences during the Civil War with those of Holocaust survivors, Vietnam veterans, and Iraq soldiers.

In another session, Richard Mollica, director of the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma and an expert in understanding trauma stories, was paired with Alexander McFarlane, a leading trauma researcher from Australia. McFarlane combined his scientific knowledge of how the brain processes traumatic events with what novelists, poets and ancient painters long have known about traumatic experiences.

The Winter 2009 issue of Nieman Reports “Trauma in the Aftermath: Voice, Story, Character and Journalism” includes reports based on transcripts from the conference and offers audio excerpts and slideshows from the sessions online at

More information about the “Aftermath” conference is available at:

– Stefanie Friedhoff
Special Projects Manager

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