Tears are part of telling the story

By Sabine Kaupp.

The light gets dark in the little cinema of the Newseum in Washington, DC. The only things appearing on screen are three numbers: 9/11. But everybody knows what this means.

Since that day, the affected were interviewed and asked to tell their stories. Interviewed by journalists who also were there when the terror attack took place. They were doing their job, filming, asking questions, doing some research, writing their story, grabbing a coffee and went back to work. Either to cover the aftermath or to return back to their normal cover stories, for they just did 9/11 because they were coincidentally there when it happened. “Somehow, journalists appear untouched by the death and destruction that surrounds them and forms the heart of their métier,” says Anthony Feinstein, currently professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. He was the first one to conduct a study about how disaster affects war correspondents, the first one to see a journalist not as a simple playback device of horrible stories, but as a human being that gets touched by the stories it experiences.

Since living in the 21st century, one might think it would be hard to be a pioneer in anything, but Anthony Feinstein made it with his study of the correlation between war correspondents and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Thankfully ignored by the news organizations, partially up to today, PTSD has been a problem ever since war correspondence is existing. One of the first famous quotes, that was later identified to describe what has come to be known as PTSD, is dated back to the year 1865, written by Author Charles Dickens. PTSD was there during the American Civil War were it was simply called insanity or melancholia, and nobody did anything about it. It was there In WWI, where it obtained the term “Shell Shock”, it was there in WWII, where it was named “Combat Fatigue”.

The first time PTSD was mentioned by its clinical term was not before 1970, during the Vietnam War, and it took another 30 years for the world to realize that not only soldiers suffer from it, but also the people that travel with them all the time to be the world’s eyes and ears in places where most would be too afraid to go themselves.

More and more people are starting to get aware of PTSD now. There are websites as the Committee to Protect Journalists, there are institutions like the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, a network that prevents help and guidelines for war correspondence. There are studies, books and videos, there are guidelines and articles, all linked to each other via PTSD. But news organizations making resources available is absolutely a different story.

War correspondents experience horrible things to keep people informed about what is happening outside their safety bubble. Now the people should start to help them and appreciate them as what they really are. Namely one kind of heroes society has nowadays.