Emerging research finds that working with images of extreme violence increases the risk of psychological trauma to journalists — including post-traumatic stress disorder.
A study, published by JRSM Open, shows that frequent, repetitive viewing of traumatic images by journalists working with ‘live’ or User Generated Content (UGC) material can be closely linked to anxiety, depression, PTSD, and alcohol consumption.
Researchers discovered that the frequency of the images, rather than duration of exposure to images of graphic violence is more emotionally distressing to journalists.
UGC is often preferred by news organizations, some of which have created specific news units to edit and ‘sanitize’ these images for screening in news and documentary programs.
In the study, researchers assessed the newsrooms of three international news organizations. Study participants included 116 English-speaking journalists working with UGC.
Dr Anthony Feinstein, who led the team of researchers at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, said, “Previous research among war journalists revealed elevated rates of PTSD and major depression compared to domestic journalists with little exposure to personal threat or violence. Our research shows that exposure to violence, albeit indirect, in a group of UGC journalists, is an important determinant of psychopathology.”
The news organizations involved in the study do not attempt to funnel more experienced journalists in the direction of a news story where the chances of viewing extreme violence are high.
Dr Feinstein said, “Given that good journalism depends on healthy journalists news organizations will need to look anew at what can be done to offset the risks inherent in viewing UGC material. Reducing the frequency of exposure may be one way to go.”