Waves of trauma lead to burnout. Here's how journalists (and others) can reset.

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Bouquets of flowers and a sign reading "Love Over Hate" are left near Club Q, an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, on Nov. 20, 2022.

Last week, four University of Idaho students were stabbed to death while they slept. On Saturday afternoon, we provided coverage of the memorial service for three football players murdered at the University of Virginia. Eight hours later, a gunman left five people dead and 25 injured at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado. 

Horrific news is the expectation, not the exception. 

In time, that expectation can seep into your very being, no matter who you are. 

Often, as journalists, we witness trauma directly. A reporter who holds a dying man in her arms because she got to the scene before the ambulance. Another who watched medical examiners conduct 25 autopsies at the same time during the COVID-19 peak. 

As a young reporter, I was sent to the scene of a toddler pulled limp out of a pool. A firefighter was in the driveway holding one tiny white “Weebok” shoe in his hands. We stood together quietly as he gently turned it over and over. 

Joshua Thurman, 34, was dancing at Club Q in Colorado Springs late Nov. 19, 2022, when the shots began but at first thought they were part of the music. A gunman left five people dead and 25 injured.

Journalists carry trauma ‘on our souls’

Even if we don’t see things firsthand, we constantly write about shootings, edit graphic images and videos, interview those left behind. 

“We are engaged in constant empathetic engagement with often profoundly traumatized and vulnerable sources and communities – and we carry those on our souls,” said Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, a project of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.



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