Guest writer, Journalism training, University study

Bearing witness- The impact of horror on TV news crews.

 

how to cope with trauma

It takes courage, as a media professional to open up about the personal impact that reporting on trauma and atrocity can have. I know from my Masters research, that journalists simply won’t admit to anyone that they have been affected by a story they have covered. There’s still a stigma, still a belief that it must make you incapable of the job, still a perception that to show emotion, is to show weakness.

I know this isn’t the case. I know many journalists and camera crews, who have been deeply affected, who have never spoken of the impact and have continued to report from the front line with the utmost professionalism. I did this too. 

You may have read this article I wrote for JournalismKX

discussing this very issue. The role emotions play in our job.

I know that my experience, my years of standing alongside others covering some of the worst atrocities mankind can create, has brought a level of trust from practising crews, as I’ve researched this issue. Few outsiders would have the level of honesty and openness I have been fortunate to encounter. During my research, the direct and honest accounts were overwhelming at times. I felt so honoured to have been allowed into their deepest thoughts about something so intensely personal. I am trusted because I understand and have encountered the same. Those testimonies were of course given in confidence, under the strict ethics of academic research.

Then today, a cameraman I worked with, many, many times over the years, wrote to me in response to my article. He had penned a letter, following his coverage of the Manchester arena attack. His words are emotional, emotive, and extraordinary. I do not underestimate the courage it takes, as a professional, to open up about this issue. I asked his permission to share this, and he agreed. It is not an easy read, and describes some of the horrors he has filmed, but his message is vitally important I believe. He wants crews and journalists to be more open, at least with one another, to speak about what they are experiencing and more supportive of each other. 

It’s a small step towards improving the emotional resilience of those who must deal with trauma on a daily basis.

Finally, thank you to the cameraman whose words you are about to read. I do not underestimate what it takes to express these feelings, and the lasting impact of all that you have witnessed. 

 

” I’ve always wanted to be a cameraman, from the age of 6 I knew that was the dream job for me. I was lucky enough to fulfil the dream and now nearly 29 years later I am still doing that dream job. Lately I’ve been beginning wonder if the job has changed. I fell into doing news in 1995 as a freelance – I just needed something to pay the mortgage over the lean period when there were no OB’s or studio work in the offing.

A couple of months was all I needed to do to keep the wolves away from my young family’s door. I loved “doing news” from the moment I started. No two days were ever the same. Dropping in to cover major events then back to the office for congratulations and alcohol.

A couple of months turned into a couple of years and all I needed to do was be at the front of the pack doing news. I went to Bosnia to cover the war.

I missed my grandparents dying days but it was okay because I was away covering a story.

I missed the early months of my daughters life, but it was okay, I was in the States covering a presidential impeachment.

I missed wedding anniversaries and countless birthdays, but it was okay, I was covering a natural disaster or another war.

My dad was seriously ill, but it was okay, I was in the Middle East covering protests, bombings and killings.

I’ve seen the worst that life can throw at anyone, all through a little viewfinder and recorded it onto magnetic tape for the world to consume while they eat their tea.

I slip into people’s lives and record their pain and suffering – their lowest hour is recorded for instant replay to the world. It’s almost muscle memory to zoom in when you sense that tears are about to flow, then without a second thought I slip out of their lives and on to the next story.

I’ve stood in human blood and guts covering terrorism, I’ve witnessed people taking their last breath, I’ve heard sounds of pain that I didn’t know a human could make and it seems that everyone knows English when they are mortally wounded. “Please help me” seems universal – I can still hear that person with their strong Eastern European accent. Ultimately there wasn’t anything I could for him.

I record what I see. My footage shows the viewer exactly what I witness. A lot of it will never be used, but I wouldn’t have been able to sleep at night knowing that I had somehow not recorded the whole picture.

As the years went by I became hardened to what the world has to offer. I hid behind this viewfinder without feeling, it’s not real, it’s just TV. That was the only way I could cope with it.

I made the “mistake” of coming out of hiding behind my camera and actually looked around the scene in a refugee camp I was filming in the Middle East. I still cry now when I recall it.

In my job I get to stand by crime scene tape, hover outside law courts and corners courts with the instructions to “capture the accused”, “try and get a shot of the family member”. 99 times out of 100 I will be called unrepeatable names, a media vulture, told to get a better/real job, stop purveying fake news (that’s a new addition to the insults, thanks Donny). I get shoved, spat at, threatened and abused and it’s all to fill the space between the titles and the weather.

Then, on my doorstep, 20 minutes from my house, 22 parents and children were killed. As soon as the first report came through I was ready to respond. I was out for over 17 hours covering the story but this time I didn’t hide behind the viewfinder. I didn’t revert to defence mode. I wasn’t a news cameraman, I was a dad, husband, son, brother, uncle… I cried when relatives told us about their teenage children having surgery on life changing injuries. I felt angry that I couldn’t do anything to help. I felt fear that it was so close to home. I felt I was intruding on these people’s lowest moment. I felt disgusted. That’s how I know that it’s me that’s changed and not the job.

At the end of the shift, approaching midnight, I put the camera away and drove home. I sobbed all the way. I couldn’t let my wife and children see me this way. I’ve spent the last 48 hours not watching or listening to the news – I’ve been inside my own head really trying to deal with everything I’ve seen that’s been “the news”. I have to pick the camera back up tomorrow and get back into it again – I actually feel like I hate the job I love.

A friend once said to me “a cameraman without a camera is just a man”. To be honest, I’d give anything just to be that man and not shoot another frame of news ever again..”

 

 

 

For more information about my trauma sessions for journalists, please email cat.hepple@gmail.com

 

 

If you enjoyed this, please share.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *