Newsroom Journalists Risk PTSD Processing Violent Images

Megan Brooks

August 18, 2014

Newsroom journalists working with pictures and videos of graphic violence submitted by the public may develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other psychopathology, new research suggests.

So-called user-generated content (UGC) is sought after by news organizations, some of which have created specific news units to edit and "sanitize" these images for airing in news and documentary programs.

In a first-of-a-kind study, investigators from Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, Canada, used validated instruments to assess the emotional health of 116 journalists working with UGC material in newsrooms of 3 international news organizations.

"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," lead investigator Anthony Feinstein, MD, said in a statement. "Our research shows that exposure to violence, albeit indirect, in a group of UGC journalists is an important determinant of psychopathology."

"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," he added.

Forty-one percent of the journalists were exposed daily to violent images, 46% had weekly exposure, and 13% were exposed monthly.

The researchers found that daily exposure to violent images "independently and consistently" predicted multiple indices of psychopathology, including anxiety, depression, PTSD, and alcohol use. They also found that greater frequency rather than duration of exposure to violent images is more emotionally distressing to journalists processing the images.

The study was published online August 7 in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine Open.

The authors report no relevant financial relationships.

J R Soc Med. Published online August 7, 2014. Full text


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