The Psychological Hazards of War Journalism

Feinstein, Anthony
June 2004
Nieman Reports;Summer2004, Vol. 58 Issue 2, p75
This article details a psychiatrist's examination of how journalists respond to what they witness and report, focusing on the psychological hazards of war journalism. It is important to emphasize that the majority of individuals exposed to a traumatic event will not develop any formal psychiatric disorder. However, what distinguishes war journalism from other professions is repeated exposure to danger. And because journalists are not schooled in how to react to violence theoretically they are more likely to be vulnerable to danger's troubled aftermath. In the first study, 140 war journalists were assessed for the presence of these disorders. Notable was the high lifetime rates of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depression in the war journalists' group. The second study took place after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Data were collected on a group of 46 journalists working for a New York-based news organizations. In the months after the collapse of the World Trade Center, symptoms of PTSD were common amongst these journalists. A third study looked at whether embedded journalists are at greater or lesser risk for developing PTSD and major depression when compared with their unilateral colleagues. Given the dangers confronted, the high mortality, and increased risk of developing PTSD and depression, what motivates journalists to return repeatedly to war zones? Those interviewed spoke of factors such as the importance of bearing witness, keeping the public informed of important events, having a ringside seat as history unfolded, and personal ambition.


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