Trauma training pushes students’ comfort zone
Student journalists are ‘‘crossing the fault lines’’ to get prepared for traumatic situations they might face once they are working.
The AUT University journalism department is involving their students in harrowing scenarios, where actors play emotional interview subjects.
Senior lecturer Lyn Barnes says research shows trauma can have a drip-by-drip effect on reporters’ states of mind if not dealt with.
‘‘To deal with death, you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone. It’s called ‘ crossing the fault lines’. It’s finding out where your weaknesses are.
‘‘To be a journalist you have to be able to deal with all sorts of things, so you have to confront some of those issues.’’
This year the 44 students faced two situations – one interviewing a ‘‘grandfather’’ of a drowned child, and the other a witness of a fatal car accident.
The interviews were filmed for the students to reflect on afterwards.
Student Jarred Williamson says he did not know what to expect.
‘‘It felt real. I think for the first minute you’re sitting there thinking ‘What the hell’s going on?’, but then your head tells you to calm down and understand the situation and be empathetic and be careful with your questions.
‘‘It’s been a really eye-opening experience for me,’’ Mr Williamson says.
Student Stephanie ArthurWorsop says beforehand she felt ‘‘sick to her stomach’’.
‘‘I honestly didn’t know how I would react to the situation and that I would just freeze up and not be able to do my job properly.
‘‘I was a bit relieved to find that I was able to separate my personal and my professional self, and that I remained relatively composed.’’
Miss Arthur-Worsop says the exercise will definitely help her in the future.
‘‘Now I know what it’s like to be face-to-face with a visibly distressed person and how to get information from them.’’
Ms Barnes first started looking into trauma reporting after the Christchurch earthquake in 2011.
‘‘It was also talking to some of the other novice journos too, who said, ‘ What about us journalists who deal with day-to-day trauma?’. . . so I thought, OK, I need to look at that.’’
After presenting her findings at a conference in Adelaide, Ms Barnes was approached by a woman from the Columbian Uni- versity Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, who encouraged her to apply for a fellowship.
Ms Barnes was one of 14 selected from around the world.
During the ‘‘intensive’’ weeklong course in New York the group were upskilled in how to teach trauma literacy, which AUT is now doing.
After the first role-play situation last year, Ms Barnes says they received a positive response from students.
‘‘One of the kids emailed me at the start of the year . . . one of her first jobs was to go out and do a death knock.
‘‘She was so grateful she’d had that experience to learn to deal with raw emotion, so she thought more carefully about her questions and about how she approached the family.’’
Ms Barnes says her goal is to see steps introduced earlier on in the course, not just in students’ final year.
‘‘We don’t have mass shootings like in the States, but we have our own disasters, our own tragedies. . . .
‘‘We just think we live in this little bubble in New Zealand and these things don’t happen. But they do.’’