Katherine’s trauma class

4/24 The journalism I’m studying this semester just won a Pulitzer

Sorry, a little late to this one, but it’s worth noting that the topic I’m looking at this semester — natural disasters — has just won a Pulitzer. And it wasn’t for event coverage, Act II or Act III reporting. The prize went to Kathryn Schulz who wrote about “The Really Big One,” a giant tsunami that threatens to destroy thousands of lives one day in the Pacific Northwest.

What’s remarkable about this award-winning piece is that these stories are exactly what we’ve been talking about when creating good journalism about natural disasters. Most of a journalist’s natural disaster coverage won’t occur during a natural disaster. It will occur before or after one.

Do we have tornado shelters? Do our sirens work? How effective are the floodwalls? Etc. These are the questions that lead to great journalism and award-winning journalism.

It’s pretty cool to see how much this class matters. Just wanted to take a second and point that out.

4/21 When the world interviews a trauma survivor

A few weeks ago, I spoke with RP who recently lost his wife in a tornado. In 2015, he was FaceTiming her while driving home. While he watched, a tornado struck her car and killed her. 

A day later, RP, who had casually paid attention to the news throughout his life, received the first call for an interview. He said he doesn’t remember much from the initial interview, but he said he does recall news outlet after news outlet that showed up and wanted more. 

JW: How did you handle all of those calls when also going through your own grieving process?

RP: To tell you the truth, I don’t know. I just did. I was able to manage everybody and give everyone their interview and manage my grieving and my family and kids.

JW: Did it ever feel like too much at times?

RP: It kind of did. Yeah, it did. I was being run over by all these cameras. And they were posted outside my house. They were just sitting out there like hawks. I figured I’d just give them their interview and they would leave.

JW: Do you wish they wouldn’t have been outside your house?

RP: No. When my wife and I got married, my wife always said that whenever she died, she wanted this big freaking funeral. She wanted to go all out. So I said, “What better way then the news? What better way than media?”

JW: But it was still difficult for you.

RP: Yes. But I was thinking about her. I thought that before all this is over, everyone would know who she was.

JW: Did any journalist ask you an insensitive or inappropriate question?

RP: All of them kept asking me the same thing. It was like the same story over and over and over again. To be honest, maybe that’s what’s helped me so much — telling my story. Do you see what I’m saying? By talking about it and telling people what happened, it was just like I got it out of my system. But they were just asking me what happened that day — the whole story. Every single reporter asked me the same questions. Did they have the same script that they just pasted on?

JW: And that helped you?

RP: Yes, it did. It was like some type of counseling talking about what happened. Mentally, it got out of me. I wasn’t holding it in. The first couple of days, I felt like crap. I couldn’t even sleep. The first week I might have gotten one to two hours of sleep a night.

JW: Did you read or watch any of these stories?

RP: I read the newspaper. I still have the newspaper (clip). The newspaper told the story of how we met. It was pretty nice, man, I liked it. It was (different). It wasn’t so much sad. It was mainly remembering all the good times I had with her. I still have it in my china cabinet with pictures of her and stuff in there.

JW: And then you invited the news media to the funeral?

RP: I did not. (But they came), yeah. Some tried to come into the funeral but they got kicked out by someone. I don’t know who. But I didn’t invite them. They didn’t come to the burial site. I wasn’t even trying to pay attention to anybody. I was done doing interviews. They did ask me if I wanted to do an interview at the Mass, and I told them no. I invited my family members to talk to the media, but I wasn’t going to talk anymore. I was through talking to them.

JW: Has anyone in the media reached back out to you?

RP: They tried to reach me not too long ago when they were doing a documentary, but I didn’t call them back. I didn’t feel like reliving the thing again.

JW: If they called and wanted to frame the story as more of a piece on you and your family’s resilience, would you have said yes?

RP: I don’t know. That’s a good question. I don’t know if I want to put my kids out there. I never did want to in the first place. All of the (media) wanted to talk to my (oldest and then 9-year-old) daughter. She did talk to maybe one or two reporters. But everyone wanted to talk to the kids, and the kids were in bad shape. Especially the big news, they wanted to interview my daughter but she didn’t want to. I mean, it’s difficult for an adult to tell the story — it’s even harder for a kid.

JW: Did people reach out to you after the story?

RP: Yes, they did. I had so many messages on Facebook, man, it was crazy. I couldn’t reply to all of the messages. I don’t know how my address got out there — I guess they looked me up or something — but I received letters, too. I received sympathy cards. Even my personal email that I use I got emails. I don’t even know how that got out there. No one knows this email!

JW: How did you feel about that?

RP: I wasn’t trying to be mean to anybody. I replied to anyone I could reply. Everyone was trying to say nice things to me to make me feel better. I got hundreds of messages from strangers. We’re talking about people from all over the U.S., Canada and other parts of the world. I even got a letter from Japan. I was like, whoa, that’s pretty crazy. The power of media is really something.

JW: Did you feel like some journalists cared about you, and treated you more than just someone being used for a story?

RP: Yes, I did. Some of them were cold. You know, you were telling them this story and they were just there. They had no expression whatsoever on their face. Now, there was some other people that still had some sort of human in them. You could tell that it was hurtful for them, and they didn’t even know me. But I could sense that they did care. There was one or two reporters that actually texted me a few weeks after that to see how I was doing and holding up. Asked about my kids and all these things.

4/14 What’s good journalism look like when covering suicide?

On Tuesday, I asked Katherine for an example of good journalism when covering suicide. She then sent us this article about a 22-year-old Utah man who took his life.

Here are my issues with the piece:

  1. The word “suicide” is in the headline.
  2. The story highlights good things about someone who did a a very, very terrible thing.
  3. The suicide is explained as a lack of “balance” in this man’s life when many reasons are to blame for suicide.

Here are some good things about the article:

  1. There’s a paragraph showing people where to go to get help.
  2. There’s a certain acknowledgement that people who are LGBTQ are at a huge risk for suicide.

Overall, this story needs some help. There are some good things about it, but there are definitely some things that need to be fixed.

4/11 Freakonomics ‘suicide paradox’ podcast and the media’s role

Suicide is the second most common cause of death for young people, and suicide deaths far outnumber homicide deaths. But the Freakonomics podcast argues that we don’t really know much about suicide.

Yes, we know the numbers: who kills themselves, how they kill themselves, where they kill themselves.

But we don’t know the why: why do people kill themselves, why do more people who are white kill themselves than people who are black and why do some groups in the world laugh when suicide is mentioned?

When it comes to this class, perhaps there’s one thing journalist can keep in mind when reporting on suicide. In a broad sense, what we write and report can influence the decisions of others. In one specific sense, the Werther effect, or copycat attempts at suicide, is a real phenomena. Sometimes famous suicide stories spur others to do it.

The podcast offered some helpful tips when writing and reporting on suicide that could lessen its effect on the public:

  1. Don’t include the word “suicide” in the headline
  2. Don’t include grieving people in the pictures

Also, try to think of a suicide story as a commercial. If you make the act of killing yourself attractive, others will want it. But if you frame suicide as painful, then others might not want to go through with killing themselves. Or, if you focus on a resilience narrative (where the person in the story finds a different way to help themselves), people might look for other options.

It’s good to remember how people outside of the media view our stories. We as journalists don’t write for ourselves — we write for others.

4/3 Experiencing grief and ‘Wave’

I couldn’t believe Sonal was spinning when the men found her. Spinning like those kids on those little toys, tugging the wheeling and turning round and round, I imagined. The man who found her spinning didn’t realize why she was spinning either.

Why wasn’t she calling for help? Why wasn’t she trying to find a way out? Why was she spinning???

We’ve read a ton of books in our class about people who have experienced trauma, but I’ve never encountered a story about spinning. I guess Sonal doesn’t remember — the account was told to her secondhand. But, if this is true, what did it happen? Do other people spin, too?

I also didn’t realize how much those memories of her family would haunt her (and, later, give her life). Little sounds, like the creak of a floorboard, and little sights, like Steve’s sister’s chin, brought Sonal back in a very intense way to her family.

But after many years these memories gave her hope and life. They were little reminders of all that was once good and why she should keep living.

NOTE: This blog will be on hiatus until the author returns from spring break … 

3/24 Sam Dubberley on User-Generated Media

“Hey man check this crazy video out!” is not a good way to approach someone with potentially traumatic material. In fact, it could be a great way to give someone vicarious trauma.

Like Thomas Brennan says, Sam Dubberley also agrees in this concept of “no surprises journalism.” Viewing user-generated content, or disturbing content in general, over and over again without any sort of warning could harm people. Dubberley said this problem is a recent one and a problem that journalism schools, and media companies, are slowly responding to.

What is vicarious trauma? It’s a pathway developing PTSD that typically occurs at work from watching and/or hearing disturbing images and video.

Dubberley had some good points on how to lessen the chance of developing vicarious trauma, most of which are fairly inexpensive. His advice for managers? “Blub by example.” Managers need to show emotion to help reporters deal with the images they’re seeing.

Probably a better piece of advice than just running up to someone and pressing them to check out a video.

3/23 Making errors in natural disaster reporting 

When doing research on the survivor interview, I started looking into how recent tornado disasters are covered. Tornadoes are scary and random — people could be living in unharmed neighborhoods next to other neighborhoods that are totally decimated.

Then what constitutes a survivor in a tornado? Can one experience trauma and not experience any physical harm? Maybe.

But it seems like the national media all rush to get good stories without totally fact-checking them. Small initial errors can turn into bigger ones when news organizations don’t actually go to the tornado-affected area and just report what others are reporting.

Take for example the Duette tornadoes: Did Steven Wilson survive? Or did Stephen Wilson survive? It’s just a couple of letters but, with a last name as common as Wilson, this error could cause confusion and harm.

(To answer the question, I found a Stephen M. Wilson in online records who matches the age in the stories).

It’s important for journalists on the ground to get the story right. Any errors in well-read stories are easily spread throughout the Internet as their stories get picked up around the world. These errors could hurt survivors beyond the storm and could be impossible to correct.

3/16 A better way to connect with sources 

Somehow in the deadlines, the newsroom frenzy and the conquest for more and more money and influence, we reporters in journalism forgot to treat people like people. That’s part of the reason this class exists.

And that’s part of the reason Thomas Brennan founded the The War Horse, a non-profit investigative journalism group which aims to tell stories about war. But how do we get back to treating people like people? Brennan suggests to take the time and meet up with sources in person when attempting to put together a story about trauma.

But leave your notes, your cameras at home. Just try to get the know to person on a human level: a where-ya-from meeting.

“Look at it like a bar without a beer,” Brennan said.

This keep it simple stupid, “no surprises journalism” (as Brennan calls it) is a terrific message to journalists who feel they’re not maxing out their potential in their reporting. Brennan challenges us to look at people as people, not as just sources for quotes in stories. Perhaps this will develop better stories or cultivate a better image of the media overall.

Perhaps it will allow us journalists to avoid using such loaded questions like “what’s it like to commit murder” when talking to a soldier for the first time. This initial bar-without-a-beer approach eases into the story behind the person who’s telling it.

And, whether or not the potential source is a part of a the story in the end, at least the journalist can feel good that they’ve treated someone like they should. Like a human being.

3/14 ‘Unfreezing’ squirrels on the trail 

When Katherine introduced “The Unthinkable” to the class, she said it’s a book that could save our lives.

Well, the book at least saved the lives of three squirrels. I tested out one of the techniques in the book to “unfreeze” squirrels that I encountered on my ride. My sample size was small (n = 3), but each time the squirrels unfroze and scampered across the trail when I made a loud noise. I used a black Trek 3700 mountain bike with a cheap ding bell I bought at Walt’s.

Some animals and humans encounter paralysis in traumatic situations. “The Unthinkable” says about 40 percent of humans actually “freeze up,” a biologically-rooted reaction that allowed our (lucky) ancestors to escape becoming a lion’s snack. Think “no fight, no bite.” In other words, a lifeless carcass could mean a sickly one in the minds of predators.

Our book recommends creating loud sounds to snap humans out of paralysis. So that’s what I tested on the trail with squirrels today. Here are my results:

Squirrel #1: This little guy had an acorn in my mouth as I tore down the trail at about 25 mph (OK, OK more like 14.5 mph but I like to think I’m on the Tour de France). He not only had his life to lose — he had his dinner to lose, too. The squirrel stood still. I started ringing my bell over and over as I neared him. As I got closer, he darted away.

Squirrel #2: I wanted to try something different this time: no bell, just voice. “Hey, hey, hey!” I yelled as I got close to the scared squirrel. “Get the heck off the darned trail!” Thankfully, same result: the little forest creature bolted.

Squirrel #3: I encountered the final squirrel on the last mile of the trial. I didn’t use a bell or my voice this time. I decided to just wave my arms. As the squirrel froze in fear of my Trek 3700, I pulled my arms over my head and waved. The squirrel didn’t move as I got closer and closer. So, I screamed right at the end and it ran away.

Three loud noises, three squirrel lives saved. Thanks, “The Unthinkable.”

3/9 Thoughts (so far) on ‘Five Days at Memorial’

I’ve decided to do a little extra reading for my topic out of curiosity. Katherine recommended I check out Sheri Fink’s “Five Days at Memorial,” a long account about how woefully unprepared Memorial Hospital in New Orleans was for Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

One of my first impressions of the book (sorry, I’m only 14 percent Kindle in) is the lack of understanding what emergency preparedness actually is. At Memorial, hundreds of typed pages existed on how the hospital should prepare for bioterrorism, volcanoes and other disasters that seemed a bit more far fetched than a hurricane.

The hurricane section, though, was slim and revealed that the hospital thought of itself as prepared. It wasn’t.

I’m curious to know how journalists can get a better understanding of emergency preparedness procedures for various companies, schools, etc. I’ve written about earlier how journalism before a disaster is incredibly important to help people prepare for a disaster. But what if a hospital, for example, tosses an emergency preparedness book on a journalist’s lap and says “Look here, we’re totally ready for the big one.”

How does a journalist evaluate not only what’s on paper but what’s being practiced? How can journalism verify if good emergency preparedness procedures (not just hundreds of unclear typed pages) are in place?

3/6 “Kate Plays Christine’ and remembering what we forget

“It was not, however, until April 1998 that the first suicide on live television actually happened,” Roger Simpson and William Coté report erroneously in our textbook “Covering Violence.”

Actually, an earlier live TV suicide occurred in 1974 when 29-year-old Christine Chubbuck killed herself during a live TV broadcast in Sarasota, Fla. The final moments of her life were explored in “Kate Plays Christine,” a movie our class watched Thursday at the True/False film festival.

Not everyone in Sarasota remembers the moment. And, judging by the textbook’s omission, few outside the beachside town recall the event either.

But one thing that was observed when creating the film was treating interview subjects with sensitivity. The actor who attempted to understand Chubbuck, Kate Lyn Sheil, is seen at one point asking a woman, who starts to cry in an interview, if she wants to take a break. As we’ve discussed in the class, inviting interview subjects to take breaks is a healthy and important thing to do when covering a traumatic story.

But why did Sheil ask to take a break? To my knowledge, Sheil has no formal journalism education, no training in covering trauma. It seems she only wanted to treat her interview subject like a human. And that drive to understand the human side of Chubbuck (and ourselves) was evident throughout the movie.

The movie raised excellent questions about covering violence. Why do journalists cover so much violence? Why do viewers like to see it? What’s the harm that occurs when violence is shown?

Personally, I wondered why Sheil treated her interviewee with respect when so many journalists covering trauma often forget to do the same.

2/29 Interview with reporter Emily Younker

Emily Younker was recently out of college and reporting for the Joplin Globe’s when an EF5 tornado struck the city in May 22, 2011. Over 150 people died and 1,100 people were injured in what was one of the deadliest and costliest tornadoes in U.S. history. She spoke with me in a telephone interview a few weeks ago about reporting on the tornado and its effects on the community and herself. This May is the five-year anniversary of the tornado. 

Jack Witthaus: So what will you be covering on this year’s anniversary?

Emily Younker: Well, since I’m doing the education beat, I’ll naturally be covering graduation. It’s so weird because on the day on the tornado (in May 2011), graduation was also that day, and that’s what I was covering. The tornado hit 20 minutes after graduation ended. It’s just weird, you know?

JW: What were you assigned to cover initially after the tornado?

EY: Clearly, I didn’t write a graduation story that night. We came back later in August (2011) and we did something on the graduating class. The tornado was such a big thing that day, (editor) Carol (Stark) was like, “By tomorrow, graduation will not be the most important news of the day.” So, what I did was set up a live Twitter feed so that whenever someone was tweeting about the tornado, I could see it. If someone would have tweeted, “The hospital was gone,” maybe we could call emergency management and see if that was true. So I was trying to inform my reporting, but in reality it really didn’t work because the phones weren’t working. Also, nobody could confirm anything that night because there was so much devastation and so much to figure out.

JW: And then what stories did you work on?

EY: I was assigned to do human-interest stories. Other reporters tracked the government side of things — FEMA, what was going on with the cleanup. But I talked to the people. I talked with families who had lost their house in the tornado, lost a family member. I talked with students in the graduating class whose lives were totally turned upside down on what was supposed to be their happiest day.

JW: What were some issues that came up during your reporting?

EY: It was very emotional. I would talk to a lot of people who were either still trying to process or who were in the middle of grieving. It wasn’t something I was necessarily prepared for (in terms of) how to respond to that level of emotion. So that was something I had to learn very fast.

JW: And what did you learn as a reporter?

EY: This is the story I always tell: In June, I was trying to do a Father’s Day story. I interviewed a woman (with two kids) who had lost her husband. This was a first Father’s Day without dad kind of story — I found out later I was the first interview she actually granted. I met her at her home, and she sent the kids away to their rooms because she didn’t want them to be part of the story. She took me into his man cave, and she showed me the photo slideshow that they played during their wedding. It was a five-minute collection of photos of the two of them. By the end of the slideshow, I was crying. She then said, “Now I know that you get it. You’re not one of those reporters who is just trying to write a story. You’re actually trying to tell my story.” That made me realize it’s OK for me to show emotions in an interviews — I don’t have to be some robot reporter. Being neutral and objective does not mean I can’t cry when I feel sad.

JW: How else did you approach subjects with sensitivity?

EY: Not everyone, of course, was ready to be interviewed. Especially people who had lost family members or friends. I often said to them, “I want to do a tribute for this person. Would you want to be part of that so their life is not just defined as a tornado victim?” And that worked fairly well because a lot of families were eager to talk about the people they had lost.

JW: And how were you affected? How did you handle your own emotions?

EY: I didn’t think at the time that it was affecting me, which was stupid. Of course it had affected me. I would go to work every day kind of because I had to. And then I would go home, and I would sort of sit in my bedroom and stare at the walls. I didn’t do anything that summer — I didn’t read any books or listen to any music. I did nothing because I had no energy. The Globe actually brought in two therapists in August for free if we needed to talk with them. So, I did, and she helped me understand how much it was affecting me. She kept reminding me that it was OK to take time for yourself.

JW: Self care?

EY: Yes. That’s not something I was paying attention to.

JW: Were journalists receptive of having therapists in the newsroom? Sometimes the culture around journalism is to be tough about stories and shrug off any emotion.

EY: Several of us scheduled an hour to talk to the therapists (which were available for all departments, not just the newsroom). Carol actually encouraged us (on the editorial side) to talk even if we thought we didn’t need to. I think she understood better than we did that fatigue was setting in. That we were collectively getting very tired and very burdened.

JW: If you could go back and do anything differently, what would it be?

EY: As for as stories and reporting, I wouldn’t do anything differently. But I would take better care of myself. I would, well, but again, it was so hard. I don’t know if I would have said no to certain assignments when I needed time for myself. (Journalism) was how I was able to help. I couldn’t go out and haul debris and rebuild a house. But I could tell people’s stories and that was my way of helping. That meant a lot to me. But in hindsight, it would have been smarter for me to recognize my own limits … I think it would have helped me stay more charged throughout the summer if I had taken better care of myself mentally and spiritually.

2/28 Preparing us for a natural disaster

“We can’t afford to become complacent” an official quips at the end of this emergency preparedness article concerning a possible tsunami on the Northwest coast.

In my (very very small) sample size of random Google searches, I’ve found some pretty good articles so far about emergency preparedness from big and small news organizations. As you might expect, these articles make up the bulk of the coverage out there on responding to natural disasters.

Which is good. We need to be reminded on what to do when a natural disaster strikes BEFORE the natural disaster. Good journalism can be an important teaching tool.

My question: How often should journalists produce articles like these? We don’t want these articles to be like exit signs, seen every day and often ignored. But I think multiple articles a year are a healthy amount to keep the public informed and interested.

2/22 Part II: A complex picture of the media and Katrina

When people who were evacuating New Orleans tried to cross the Gretna City Bridge, officers with shotguns stood guard and told them to turn around. It didn’t make sense. Why was the government telling its own people they couldn’t cross a bridge?

In the aftermath of Katrina, inaccurate reports of looting, violence and rape were rampant around the U.S. The reports came from a place of racism — people believed low-income, non-white people were committing crimes post-Katrina because that’s a narrative that they had been fed over and over and over again about the “other.” That narrative, in part, prevented the government from stepping in and helping fix nm ever-worsening situation of sickness and hunger.

One NOLA police chief, grief-stricken, wife 8-and-a-half-months pregnant, was part of the problem. He was on Oprah and Dr. Phil talking about the “other” raping babies. Raping babies. 

Seems implausible. But because of previous bias, because of previous stereotypes, we believed it. And the government didn’t want to step in and help because of fear of the other.

Actually, though, white people armed with guns were shooting black people in New Orleans because of this fear. Our heads and our hearts were not linked.

As bad as the media was in spreading rumors, Spike Lee’s movie also talks about some of the advocacy the media did around Katrina. Some TV hosts criticized government agents for moving too slow to help. This certainly galvanized support and possibly rectified some damagingly inaccurate media coverage.

More often than not, though, this bad reporting drowned out the better reporting. The things in our heads clouded the actualities on the ground in New Orleans.

2/21 A troubling story about trauma 

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch published this beautifully laid out but disturbing piece on childhood trauma. The story focuses on the lives of kids who grow up in low-income, high-stress neighborhoods and also weaves quotes in from medical experts studying how stress affects childhood development.

Kids who live in stressful environments are more likely to develop various types of illness (not just physically), experts say. Stress that affects children comes from  violence and food and housing insecurity to name a few.

We often look at adults when talking about trauma but it seems that a child’s brain can be just as affected by trauma. Perhaps even more so. And that trauma can really screw up a child’s life.

There’s some great Act I & II reporting going on here. The word resilience is only mentioned once, though, and there isn’t much Act III reporting. Maybe that’s the point: to give the reader a sense of helplessness and, perhaps, inspire the reader to do something to change this trauma.

But I wished there was something more done with Act III. If I was living in this neighborhood and reading this story and experiencing these problems, I wouldn’t have much hope. The ending is bleak. How can we construct narratives that are accurate and can have the potential of solving issues of trauma?

2/15 Reporting on natural disasters before they even happen

In this class, we’ve looked at ways we can report on trauma after it happens using Frank Ochberg’s “Three Acts of Trauma News” as a guide to our reporting. But what if we could report on how to prevent or lessen trauma? Stories like how to survive a a natural disaster are good, but what if journalists could raise awareness to how to stop those disasters from affecting humans in the first place?

I’ve seen some really good work done on stories recently about preserving the wetlands around Louisiana and a recent NYT video on how rising sea levels can affect Miami.  Another good pre-natural disaster journalism piece comes yesterday from Tony Messenger, a columnist with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He writes about how developing retail and homes in an ever-expanding floodplain could have dire consequences for communities near the river in St. Louis.

This sort of journalism should be done before natural disaster strikes. Natural disasters are somewhat preventable and predictable and perhaps good journalism could help people become aware and seek action to help lessen its impact.

2/14 Muhammed Muheisen and photographing trauma

On Thursday, Muhammed Muheisen talked with our class about photographing war scenes and the effect it had on him. When he returned home, he looked over his shoulder more often, approached life more cynically and felt that he couldn’t relate to people. He avoided therapy, and, eventually, alienated someone who loved him.

The worst thing journalists covering traumatic events think is that they’re fine, that no wounds exist from what they’ve experienced. Muheisen countered that belief. Trauma affected him and his wounds weren’t healed until enough of his friends implored him to seek help.

“Everyone notices except yourself,” Muheisen said about the effects of trauma.

Getting help isn’t a cowardly thing to do, he said. It’s needed. What’s also needed is deep reflection if this kind of job is the right thing for you to be doing.

So, to move past his old wounds, Muheisen started to take pictures of refugees. These people are the survivors of war and retelling their stories of resilience helped him and others.

My biggest takeaway from his lecture was that finding help isn’t cowardly. And working on stories of human endurance may help more than just the people being covered.

2/11 Red Cross prepares students for natural disaster

We’ve been talking a lot in the class about the importance of preparedness when it comes to trauma. For example, explaining what could happen after you retell a traumatic event to reporter can help prepare our sources before we do a story.

But what about actually preparing people for trauma they haven’t experienced? And what if we started earlier in life — like talking to kids in grade school?

Here’s a local news story about the Red Cross helping Wisconsin students understand how to survive and become more resilient after natural disasters (like fires, earthquakes, etc). The program seems well-targeted and useful. Although most of the those kids probably won’t experience a natural disaster, they will at least have some idea how to help others or how to understand others.

We didn’t do this kind of preparedness in grade school, but I wish we did. This kind of event could also be an excellent news story about how to survive and be resilient after a natural disaster, just like that NYT piece we saw in class.

2/8 “Grief Hallucinations” after natural disaster

I’m focusing on responses to natural disasters for this class on trauma. Basically, I’ll be looking all over the web (and other places) for news stories or interesting articles about natural disasters.

I’ll try to frame the discussion on the blog to relate to Frank Ochberg’s “Three Acts of Trauma News” or find stories on class-related material. Hopefully, I will be able to identify Acts 1, 2 and 3 when looking at stories.

Here’s an article that struck me the other day: taxi drivers in Japan encountering “ghost passengers” after a 2011 tsunami. I don’t think this article relates to Ochberg as much as it does just generally explain trauma.

What I like about this article is that it doesn’t sensationalize trauma — which would be really easy to do considering the “ghosts” involved. To a certain extent, the article normalizes and explains why this trauma may have happened.

We’ve briefly discussed “grief hallucinations” but not to the extent that these hallucinations could potentially help people who have experienced trauma (I’m reminded of the story of the Vietnam helicopter pilot who hallucinated his father-in-law making fun of him at dinner for not escaping his tragedy … that hallucination helped spur him to save his own life).

I’m also curious to know how culture affects trauma as well. Like, do some people in different cultures see ghosts while others see, I don’t know, Truman the Tiger on a crash near Faurot Field?

2/1 Misperceptions of PTSD

I’m not here to suggest that Sarah Palin is, in any way, indicative of the average American. But it’s sad that someone with as big of a platform as her can do damage to our understanding to PTSD.

On the “Today Show,” Palin was asked Monday about her remarks linking PTSD with Obama. We all know in this class that the statement is ludicrous but could shed light on how little most people know about PTSD and how the brain functions. Exposure to life-or-death traumatic events causes PTSD. Lacking “respect” for veterans as a U.S. president does not.

What concerns me was how she responded to those remarks she made:

“What I have blamed President Obama in doing, though, is this level of disrespect for the United States military that has made manifest in cutting budgets, in not trying to beef it up and let our military do the job they’re trained to do,” Palin said, “and in specific issues we’re talking about that are so hot today, specifically, let’s get in there and utterly destroy ISIS.”

Yeah, Palin. Let’s get in there and utterly destroy ISIS. Like that won’t lead to more cases of PTSD or anything.

1/28 Managing employees with PTSD, TBI

The New York Times ran a sad article Thursday about the greediness of the Wounded Warrior Project. About 40 percent of the donations have been used for overhead, according to the article, with some of the money funding lavish expenses like five-star hotels and business class airline seat.

Several anecdotes involved with veterans with PTSD who worked for or were helped by the charity. One veteran’s job was terminated while she was leading an event.

I couldn’t help but wonder how job loss or job stress affects the healing process with PTSD. Also, in general, what protocols are in place at companies for firing people with mental health issues? Is a responsibility for a company or charity to make sure extra resources are allocated to help someone with these issues relocate to a new job?

Katherine said part of this class is helping develop future leaders to inspire changes in the workplace. I think some of these questions are things we should all start looking at as future managers, editors or donators to charities.

1/27 Dr. Osborn talks about PTSD

On Tuesday, Dr. Osborn with the VA talked about some of the effects of PTSD, including that someone with PTSD continues to respond to stressful situations the same way. For example, if someone cuts off another person with PTSD, that person with PTSD might yell and get aggressive. Sure, that may have worked in a life-or-death battle situation. But not in a civilian situation.

That part of his lecture reminded me of almost war movies like “American Sniper” and “The Hurt Locker.” It makes sense why some soldiers would want to serve multiple tours, as repeating old actions would make transitioning to civilian life almost impossible.

I wish we would have talked with Osborn more about how psychologists themselves cope with hearing so many of those difficult stories about warfare. As Osborn put it, the stories can be unbelievable, but hearing so many of them undoubtably takes a toll and could result in PTSD.

I think the biggest thing I took away from his talk was how a journalist should interview a soldier or anyone who’s survived a traumatic situation. It’s pretty simple advice: if someone appears to close off, change the subject or ask if there’s a better time to do the interview.

Reliving tough stuff is tough stuff. But, as Osborn put it, everyone will finish their story. Just at their own pace.