JMC Professor Studies How Journalism Schools are Teaching Trauma

Are journalism schools teaching students about the psychological risks of covering traumatic stories? Can victims be harmed if reporters approach them the wrong way?

These are a couple of the tough questions Gretchen Dworznik, assistant professor in Kent State’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication (JMC), asked in her paper, “Are we teaching trauma? A survey of accredited journalism schools in the U.S.”

Dworznik recently presented her findings at the Broadcast Education Association conference in Las Vegas. The paper won first place in the open paper competition for the curriculum division.

Dworznik worked with Adrienne Garvey, former TV producer and current Ph.D. student at Regent University, on the study. The two studied whether journalism schools were teaching students about the psychological risks of covering traumatic stories.

Existing research shows that journalists can suffer psychological harm from stories they cover, and, if they approach them the wrong way in an interview, potentially cause psychological harm to trauma victims. Dworznik and Garvey noticed there was not a study to show whether schools were teaching students how to approach traumatic stories.

“We wanted to fill that research gap,” she said.

Dworznik and Garvey reached out to 100 accredited journalism schools in the United States. They received 41 responses, and of those responses, found that only one school taught a class on trauma. Three-quarters of the respondents, though, said they teach about trauma in other classes.

“However, the time devoted to those topics varies widely and is both inconsistent and essentially reactive,” said Dworznik. “They really only teach about trauma if a story comes up that warrants them broaching the subject with their students.”

Despite this, Dworznik said a majority of survey respondents agreed that journalist and victim trauma are important topics that should be taught; they just aren’t being taught with any consistency.

Dworznik is now pursuing publication of the paper in the journal, Journalism and Mass Communication Educator.

POSTED: Tuesday, May 9, 2017 - 2:31pm
UPDATED: Tuesday, May 9, 2017 - 2:31pm
Keri Richmond, '17