The school’s Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting will use the grant to develop a toolkit to help journalists cope with the mental toll of crisis reporting. When complete, the toolkit will be made available to professional journalists through the Solutions Journalism Network.
“We were thrilled to receive one of eight awards out of 40 entries from universities nationwide,” said Sarah Baxter, Colvin Center director and visiting professor of foreign reporting. “The Solutions Journalism Network shares our concern about the risks to journalists for doing their job and the need to protect reporters’ mental health. SoCJ students will form an integral part of the program when it launches this fall.”
Journalists often report on stressful or dangerous situations in the U.S. and abroad without recognizing the toll it takes on their mental health. Marie Colvin, an international correspondent for London’s Sunday Times, lost an eye covering the Sri Lankan civil war and struggled to admit that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress. Colvin was killed by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces while covering the Syrian uprising in 2012.
The Colvin Center was founded in her honor in 2013 and works to uphold her legacy by training the next generation of foreign correspondents, supporting democracy and human rights, and helping to ensure the free flow of accurate, uncensored information.
“Marie believed in giving voice to other people’s trauma but often neglected its impact on her own mental health and suffered from post-traumatic stress,” said Baxter, who is a reporter and former editor with London’s Sunday Times. “This project would honor her memory by giving us the tools to train students to report ethically in stressful situations, acquire coping skills, build support networks, access help and mitigate the risks to their own mental health.”
This is not the first time the Colvin Center has fostered a conversation about mental health in journalism. Last year’s annual Marie Colvin Distinguished Lecture was a conversation about journalists and mental trauma. The lecture featured a panel of experts including Ellen Barry, mental health correspondent of the New York Times, and Dr. Anissa Abi-Dargham, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at Stony Brook’s Renaissance School of Medicine.
The Solutions Journalism Network grant will allow the Colvin Center and the SoCJ to continue to engage with issues of mental health and resilience in journalists and media professionals, and, in time, to offer support to professional reporters though the toolkit.
“Journalists pride themselves on being tough, but the experience of reporting on trauma can take its toll in unexpected ways,” said Baxter. “It’s important to be kind to yourself and recognize that being a witness to war, conflict or suffering can lead to a great deal of repressed anxiety and stress. Acknowledging that we are not immune to this is an important first step.”
The Colvin Center’s project will develop techniques in collaboration with the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, which helps researchers share their work and its significance through the use of empathic communication, improvisational theater techniques and social science research. The Alda Center’s emphasis on personal connection and engagement will be incorporated into the Colvin Center’s project to build a resilience training pilot program.
The grant is the latest expansion of a growing partnership with the Solutions Journalism Network, which works to help reporters tell stories focused on community solutions rather than only the problems. Several SoCJ faculty are accredited solutions journalism educators and have built the approach into several of the school’s graduate-level journalism courses. Last year, the school hosted a talk with Nina Rosenberg, one of the Network’s founders, and was named one of the network’s four hub institutions.
“I am delighted that the Colvin Center is taking the lead on this important project for its own sake but also because of our commitment to the causes for which Marie Colvin gave her life: courage under fire, and sharing the impact of war and conflict on civilians,” said Laura Lindenfeld, dean of the SoCJ and executive director of the Alda Center for Communicating Science. “This toolkit will help reporters around the world to recognize and take proactive steps to protect their mental health and build resilience as they prepare to cover conflict, pain and tragedy around the world. My hope is that it also helps future journalists — at Stony Brook and elsewhere — to stay safe wherever their reporting takes them.”
— Menka Suresh, science communication graduate student