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SoCJ students develop “Coping with Crisis” toolkit for student-journalists

line drawings of a hand holding a press notebook, a press flak vest, a hand holding a small candle, and a face wiping a tear away

line drawings of a hand holding a press notebook, a press flak vest, a hand holding a small candle, and a face wiping a tear awayWhile student reporters across the country have been covering on-campus protests, a team of 10 journalism students and two recent graduates developed a toolkit about how to report on and build resilience during times of crisis. 

The timing of their year-long project was coincidental, but underscores the importance of helping student journalists prepare themselves to cover trauma, polarization and conflict.

“Journalism students can be called on to cover dangerous and difficult stories the same way professionals do, and lessons and conversations about how they can prepare themselves for those moments must be part of their education,” said Laura Lindenfeld, dean of the Stony Brook School of Communication and Journalism and executive director of the Alda Center for Communicating Science. “I’m deeply impressed by the toolkit our students have developed and hope that it will help not only Stony Brook students but students in journalism programs around the country.”

The guide, Coping with Crisis: Journalists on the Frontline, includes perspectives from student journalists and leading media professionals, suggestions for building resilience in highly charged situations, the science of trauma and coping strategies, and tools for building trust and engaging respectfully with people who may be survivors of conflict and trauma.

“Student journalists and young professionals can rapidly find themselves reporting on very stressful situations for which they have not been prepared,” said Sarah Baxter, the journalism instructor who led the course and director of the SoCJ’s Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting. “Many of the well-known journalists who offered us guidance said they wished they had been helped in this way at the start of their careers.”

The students who worked on the project were: Oluwatunmise Akinfeleye, Jessica Castagna, Sydney Corwin, Rafael Cruvinel, Samantha Derner, Daniela Escobar, Viola Flowers, Tim Giorlando, Anna Hanzel, Sara McGiff and Jane Montalto. Samantha Derner and Christine Kelley, who graduated in December 2023, were also part of the project.

“Being a part of the toolkit throughout this school year has been such an enriching experience. I think many of us journalism students have a lot of anxieties regarding the journalism world. The toolkit served as an outlet for us to investigate these ideas, and in doing so, we learned a lot about how to handle difficult situations as a journalist,” said Jane Montalto, a senior journalism major who helped write the guide and drew illustrations  for it. “I’m super excited for this to be used as a resource for other students, and I’m so proud to be a part of such a talented team of students.”

The guide is the culmination of more than a year of conversations hosted by the Colvin Center through its annual Marie Colvin Distinguished Lecture. This spring, keynote speaker Emma Tucker, editor-in-chief of the Wall Street Journal, addressed the symposium, Coping with Crisis, along with a panel of international correspondents and professionals from the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. Last year, Journalists on the Frontline brought together a panel of mental health professionals and a representative from Amnesty International. 

Both conversations centered on how journalists and editors can protect their mental and emotional well-being in a profession that often requires reporters to place themselves at risk and interview people who were recently traumatized.

The guide was funded by the Solutions Journalism Network as part of their 2023-2024 Student Media Challenge

“This is one of the most impressive projects I’ve ever seen from students,” said Michael Davis, training and curriculum manager at the Solutions Journalism Network. “It not only met our expectations, it exceeded them in many ways. I think this is going to be a very helpful tool not just for people in the U.S. but also internationally. I’m delighted to see students helping students with this project.”

Solutions journalism is an approach to journalism that looks at community responses to common yet complex problems like climate change or homelessness, instead of simply reporting on problems. The approach is a core part of the SoCJ’s journalism graduate program and has been incorporated into the undergraduate program. 

In 2022, the Network named Stony Brook one of four national hubs for solutions journalism education. This summer, the School will host a conference for journalism educators from around the U.S. who want to incorporate solutions journalism into their courses and programs.

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