Work-related Crisis Exposure, Psychological trauma and PTSD in News Journalists

G5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


Internal Authors/Editors


Publication Details

List of Authors: Klas Backholm
Publisher: Åbo Akademi University
Publication year: 2012
ISBN: 978-952-12-2795-0


Abstract

Background: Journalistic work in crises includes a variety of tasks: reporting on the scene, editing material in the home office, or broadcasting live. Journalists may be both primarily and secondarily exposed to potentially traumatic events during work assignments. The aim of the present studies was twofold, (1) to investigate how previous exposure to potentially traumatic events during work or in personal life is related to current trauma-related distress (post-traumatic stress disorder, secondary traumatic stress, depression and burnout) in journalists, and (2) to study journalistic work, event-related distress, and occupational risk factors in a specific type of crisis-related assignment, the Finnish school shootings in 2007 and 2008.
Method: The studies were conducted on the basis of two samples. For studies I-III, a sample of 503 Finnish news journalists was collected via a web-based survey. In studies I and II, a quantitative approach was implemented; the third utilized a mixed methods design. Study IV was of qualitative nature, with a sample of 60 news journalists, of which 28 had worked with Finnish school shootings and the remaining 32 with shootings in the US. In all studies, participants from all types of media, and with national or regional distribution, were represented.
Results: A crisis assignment with many gruesome details covered during the last year was clearly related to more current distress. However, the analyses of relationships between range of covered assignments and current distress showed less clear results. Lifetime trauma history in personal life was related to all types of measured current distress (Study I). A mediating effect of depression was found on the predictive values of (1) range of potentially traumatic events covered on the scene and PTSD, as well as on (2) potentially traumatic exposure in personal life and PTSD (Study II).
Journalists working with the Jokela school shooting (2007) did not show more severe PTSD symptoms than a control group five months after the incident. Close to 30% of the participants experienced peri-trauma distress during the assignment. A personal past including more exposure to traumatic events predicted more peri-trauma distress. Described short term reactions included a variety of symptoms, such as sadness, fear, and shock. Symptoms surfaced after the assignment was finished (Study III). Similarly, in Finnish journalists working with the Jokela and/or Kauhajoki shootings (2007-08), distressing short-term distress was described in half of the sample, in a variety of ways. Long-term symptoms included intrusive memories, physical arousal, and avoidance, and were present in 20% of the sample. Risk factors for severe long-term distress included the incident reminding of one’s own life, being a parent, or experiencing occupation-specific ethical dilemmas during the assignment (Study IV).
Conclusions: A majority of news journalists are likely not to experience severe long-term psychological distress after crisis-related work. Stressors influencing the level of distress may include factors occurring previous to, during, or in the aftermath of the event. Some factors are universal, while others are specific for the occupational group. Providing journalists with basic psychological trauma knowledge in combination with ethical best practices for crisis work may promote a better understanding of individual reactions, and provide tools for avoiding additional harm in first-hand victims meeting the media.


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Last updated on 2019-12-11 at 03:25