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SBU News > Academics > School of Communication and Journalism > Colvin Lecture Addresses Resilience in Reporting 

Colvin Lecture Addresses Resilience in Reporting 

Colvin lecture tucker
Colvin lecture group
Sarah Baxter (center), director of the Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting, moderated a panel on how to cope with reporting on traumatic events. From left: Kate Porterfield, Journalist Trauma Support Network, Columbia’s Dart Center; Lucy Westcott, Committee to Protect Journalists; Bedel Saget, The New York Times; and Louise Callaghan, The Times and Sunday Times. Photos by: Jez Coulson/Insight

Journalists are often called on to cover traumatic events — wars and other conflicts, accidents and natural disasters, and more. In doing their jobs, journalists experience trauma. Over the past several years, more and more newsrooms and media organizations are working to protect the physical and mental health of their news teams.

This year’s Distinguished Colvin Lecture, hosted by the School of Communication and Journalism’s Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting, took a close look at how to build resiliency and protect the physical and mental health of the people many people rely on to stay informed about the world.

“The challenge is real,” said Laura Lindenfeld, dean of the School of Communication and Journalism and executive director of the Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook. “It impacts people definitively and oftentimes journalists may not realize how they’re feeling, what’s going on with them, or what they’re even getting themselves into.”

The lecture, “Coping with Crisis,” featured a panel of reporters and advocates and a keynote lecture by Emma Tucker, editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal, March 25 at the SUNY Global Center in New York City.

Colvin lecture tucker
Emma Tucker, editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal, gave the keynote address.

Tucker spoke about Evan Gershkovich, a WSJ reporter who was arrested in Russia on March 29, 2023 while reporting, and is still in custody on trumped-up charges of espionage. Tucker also reminisced about Marie Colvin, who was killed by Bashir al-Assad’s regime in 2011 while she was covering the uprising in Syria for London’s Sunday Times.

“Journalism has never been the safest of professions, and unfortunately, I’m all too familiar with the real-life dangers journalists face,” Tucker said. “Journalists face more threats, both physical and psychological, than ever before. Moreover, our industry is undergoing massive disruption and transformation, which can be very unnerving. But at the same time, the world is facing questions and challenges that only high-quality journalism can answer. I’m also really, really grateful for the work Stony Brook School of Communication and Journalism does for our profession.”

This was the second Distinguished Colvin Lecture to discuss mental health in journalism; last year’s talk, “Journalists on the Frontline,” featured a panel of reporters and mental-health professionals. The Colvin Center has also been leading a year-long effort to build a toolkit to help student-journalists protect their mental health and prepare for the challenges of their chosen profession. The work is funded by the Solutions Journalism Network; Stony Brook’s SoCJ is one of the network’s four hub institutions.

“The toolkit helps me feel prepared for what I may have to cover as a journalist and I hope these resources can do the same for other student journalists when it’s completed,” said Viola Flowers, 24, a senior journalism major. “I was an intern at NBC Nightly News when the Nashville shooting occurred. I did not think that I’d be working on a story like that as a 19-year-old intern. And it was not something that I was personally prepared for.”

The panel included Bedel Saget of The New York Times and a Stony Brook alumnus; Louise Callaghan of The Times and Sunday Times; Lucy Westcott of the Committee to Protect Journalists; and Kate Porterfield, a psychologist at the Journalist Trauma Support Network at Columbia’s Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. Sarah Baxter, Colvin Center director and a visiting professor of international journalism, moderated the discussion.

Colvin lecture saget
Bedel Saget

“The panelists were wonderfully generous with their time and experience,” Baxter said. “They all wished they had been better prepared as young journalists to cope with the pressures of reporting on traumatic events and congratulated the SoCJ and the Center on its solutions journalism initiative.”

The panelists discussed the challenges of doing their work, the benefits and joys of being reporters, and how they have all worked to find balance themselves or to help others find balance.

“I want to know what’s happening,” said Callaghan, who has spent eight years as a war correspondent in places including Ukraine, Syria and Gaza. “For me it’s amazing seeing history being made in front of you and seeing people living at extremities. How do people react? In these incredibly terrifying situations, what are the limits of humanity? What do people do in these extreme situations?”

Saget has covered natural disasters such as the Hawaii fires and Turkish earthquake and is a firefighter. He said he was called to be the “eyes and ears” on a story.

“It’s a privilege to be a journalist,” he said. “It extends into my personal life as a firefighter, so it’s also about wanting to help.”

Saget admitted that he had recently had a health issue that prompted him to find a better balance between his work and personal life.

Westcott and Porterfield both spoke of the resources their organizations offered and what they have found to be helpful in working with reporters who may be struggling.

“When you’re a psychologist, one of the first things they teach you is that you’ve got to be okay if you’re going to move towards hurt people,” Porterfield said. “Journalists don’t get that kind of focus and they’re going into places like Gaza and Ukraine. I want to help journalists recognize what you all are doing right and which tools really matter. Being trauma-informed helps you as you approach subjects, sources and communities. You have to be careful with that and I think journalists are hungry for it.”

“Student journalists like the ones here today are the future,” she added. “The younger generation of journalists are the ones who are saying, ‘I’ve got to be okay psychologically to do my job well, and to be an okay human in the world. I’m not just going to put myself in harm’s way over and over.’ We need to have conversations and gather together and think about what we can do to take care of ourselves.”

Marie Colvin was an acclaimed war correspondent from Long Island who was killed in Syria in February 2012 while working for The Sunday Times of London. The Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting at Stony Brook educates and prepares the next generation of foreign correspondents and supports professional journalists around the world.

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