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Listen: Trauma-Informed Journalism

Discover how trauma-informed approaches, backed by the latest scientific evidence, not only builds transformational resilience but can also lead to more accurate stories while safeguarding survivors from retraumatization.

Join us on a journey that fundamentally shifts the paradigm from viewing 'victims' to 'survivors,' emphasizing empathy, transparency, and choice at every stage of the process

SHOW GUEST: Tamara Cherry is an award-winning journalist, trauma researcher, and communications consultant who spent nearly 15 years of her career as a crime reporter for the Toronto Star, Toronto Sun, and CTV News Toronto. Tamara’s latest book, The Trauma Beat: A Case for Re-Thinking the Business of Bad News, was described in a Quill & Quire starred review as “a stunning work that should be required reading for journalism students, news reporters, true crime junkies, and anyone who wants to write narratives that heal, instead of harm.” 

Highly regarded in the survivor support community, Tamara assisted in developing the Victimology program at Durham College, east of Toronto, where she created and taught the Victims and the Impact of the Media course for several years. She has routinely aided in the media training of police officers across Ontario and has been called upon as an expert presenter on the topic of human trafficking for police officers, Crown attorneys, and front-line service providers. Members of the media frequently turn to Tamara to comment on stories involving trauma, and she is a regular commentator and host across the iHeartRadio Talk Network.


00:00:02 Great. Welcome everyone! We are so thrilled to have Tamara Cherry with us, who is a former crime reporter and journalist and now the founder of Pickup Communications, as well as the author of a new book, The Trauma Beat A Case for Rethinking the Business of Bad News. So thank you so much for being with us. Welcome.

00:00:21 Just wanted my absolute pleasure. Thanks for having me.

00:00:24 Yeah. Let's dive right in. So what brings you to this work? How did you go from being a crime reporter to now trying to change the way that the news is delivered?

00:00:33 Well, I guess to answer that question, I would go even further back. Like when I went into journalism school way early in the 2000s, I thought I was going to write for snowboarding magazines, and that didn't happen. My very first internship at the Regina Leader post here in Saskatchewdan, Canada. I like a few days in, I wrote a story. I interviewed a woman, rather first, whose father had died from Alzheimer's disease, and by the end of the interview, she was crying. I was crying, and that sort of like clinched it for me, that I really fell in love with telling stories that could make people feel something and could make people care. And of course, I didn't know then that I was going to be a crime reporter, but my career sort of just led me to that way. Whereas I'm going to jump forward, forward a couple of places. I went from the Calgary Herald to the Toronto Star, and I started in this place that many young journalists in Toronto start, which is the radio room. And I was, you know, it's a around the clock place that people work so divided into three shifts. You're just listening to police, fire and ambulance scanners. You're monitoring local news, you are calling through the phone book. You are it is it is a trauma box, basically. And I like, like I loved it, really. I loved the rush of the breaking news and ever present deadlines and the scanner chatter and all this stuff. And I had a knack for it, and my bosses really praised me for it. Like, oh my gosh, you got that family so quickly. Like, you talk to that man whose wife was just killed a few hours ago, like, good for you, which I think back on now. And I'm like, oh, I can't believe that I did that. But it was a really weird place where. I'm working with people that I had looked up to for so long, and I still do admire them in many respects, and who are telling me good job on things and, you know, encouraging me and really mentoring me and then my career, just like because I was good at it, you know. Crime reporter position open up here and then here and then here. And before I knew it, like I was, you know, a full time crime reporter. And that's how I spent most of my career. I think it was almost 15 years that I spent as a crime reporter in Toronto. And while I was doing it. So there were a couple of things going on. So the bulk of my career, I started in newspapers, but the bulk of my career I spent in television working for CTV News Toronto, which was the biggest station in Toronto, the biggest local newscast, I think, in the country. And it was great. You know, it all sorts of resources and all these things. It was a great different way of storytelling, but there were a couple of things going on. So first, I noticed this gap in services for trauma survivors, who I would have just called victims or family members back then, whereas I would go knock on somebody's door who is experiencing the worst hours of their life, and they would come and talk to me outside, give me their few minutes holding the framed photo of their loved one crying into my microphone. And then I would leave and my colleague from the other station would come. Then they would leave in our colleague from the newspaper come and they would leave. Like Toronto's a very saturated news market, highly competitive. And I was it just it didn't it didn't totally sit well with me. And in fact, I would often tell survivors like, and again, this is wrong. There's a lot of things that I did. And you know, if you read my book, I get into a lot of the ways I got things wrong. When I thought I, my good intentions were good enough, but there were many times that I would tell survivors, like, if you just come out and talk to us all at once, will all go away, you know? Which wasn't right, but my intentions were good, you know? And so there was that. But then there was also, you know, I became a mother when I was a TV reporter. And, you know, people would ask me, what do you what do you want to do after this? And I would say, what do you mean? I have the best job in the world. I'm going to be a crime reporter at 65 years old on the mean streets of Toronto. And then, of course, I had kids and everything changed, as everyone said that they would. And certain stories became a lot harder. And I wanted to be home for dinner with my kids. So in having a conversation, actually, like many conversations I had with people like, what could I do next? What could I do next? I didn't want to go into traditional PR, it just did not appeal to me. That's what a lot of journalists do. I want to do something that I really cared about, and it was actually in conversation with a homicide investigator outside of Toronto police headquarters, probably in like 2015 after my first child was born, that he said, like, what about victims? Why not work for victims? And so that sort of started me down the path of how would I how would I do that? What would that look like? Who would pay me for it? Not the victims and survivors. I'll just throw that out there. Um, and, and then that one thing led to another. And actually, right before the pandemic, I finally left CTV in November 2019, launched my company. And then and that was that. And I set up my business basically to act as a media liaison for victims of crime. And I still do a lot of that work. It looks a lot different now because of course, the pandemic hit. Everything came to a halt. And that's when I decided to check one big thing off my very long list of things to do, which was this research project, which I'm sure we'll talk about. So sorry I took I took a really roundabout way of answering your question there, but I hope that gives some helpful context.

00:06:04 Appreciate you setting the full stage and introducing yourself in the way that you want to. So appreciate all of that, all that you shared. We are going to dive more into specifics around trauma-informed journalism and the reporting and working with survivors like you discussed. I'm curious, before we get there at a high level, based on what you just shared. One interesting point is a few times you talked about how you think back to things that you did in the past where, you know, the intention was good, but the impact may have been so much different and you reflect differently. And so before we dive specifically into journalism, I'm curious if you can speak to anybody who's listening where. I mean, there are things that I've done, like, I think that it's true for all of us as we emerge in this movement, that we look back and we're like, wow, I really messed up. And sort of we talk about being trauma-informed. A huge part of that is a commitment to an ongoing process of learning and growth. And just before we get into the specifics around journalism, if you can speak to like that work that you've continued to do with yourself and how important that is for anybody coming into this movement.

00:07:13 Oh, I love that you just said that. The ongoing work. I've never. Heard anybody describe it like that, but that is so aligned with how I feel. Because if you would have asked me, Jesse, five years ago, you know, it was almost exactly five years ago that I left journalism, if you would have asked me if I was trauma-informed, I would have said, first, what's trauma-informed? I've never even heard that term. But then I would have said, like, yeah, how much more trauma-informed could I be? I've, I've worked with these victims in trauma virtually on a daily basis for the last 15 years. What more could I know about trauma? What I always tell people now is the more I learn about trauma, the more I realize I've left to learn. It is it is a constant, constant process. So first off, one thing I'll say is this is a line from somebody who's become a good friend of mine. Her name is Ellen Greene. She was the manager of victim services for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department for more than she was there for more than 30 years, also manage their human trafficking section. And I spoke to her a lot during my research project. And I refer to her a lot in my book. And at the end of one of the conversations that we had, you know, after I'd stopped recording, I was telling her about all the guilt that I carried for all the ways that I got things wrong as a journalist when I thought I was getting them right. She told me something that I say in like every workshop that I give to journalists, it's not guilt, it's growth. And there were things that she did, you know, as a young victim service provider back in the 80s and 90s where, you know, maybe you think that, oh, this woman must be lying because she's telling her story in two different ways, or this or that. They didn't understand the impact of trauma on the brain. And she said, it's not guilt, it's growth. So that really helped me in moving through the moral injury that I've suffered from getting things wrong over all those years and now learning about how wrong I really was. But so in terms of learning, when I started this research project back in May of 2020, I really did it, to be totally honest with you, with the intention of I wanted to create educational materials for like number one victims, service providers and investigators like homicide investigators, because I wanted to be able to show them like, this is why you need somebody to support your victims and survivors. This is a gap in services. I wasn't even totally thinking about journalists. I was, but honest to goodness, I just thought that we just it's not necessarily that everybody needs to change the way that they're doing things. It's that we need a person in there to fill that gap in victim services. So I was really, really starting this research to basically reaffirm what I already knew. And I did because I knew there was a problem in there certainly was, but I had no idea how much I would actually learn, especially about all the ways that I got things wrong. So I did like my learning journey started with this survey that I created for homicide and traffic fatality survivors, those being the two groups that I had most often encountered as a crime reporter. Those were the doors that I was most often knocking on, you know, to talk to their bereaved family members in the immediate aftermath. Those are the people I was, you know, going after in the hospital, ICU waiting rooms, like just really yucky stuff. Um, and like, immediately what I was hearing back from survivors was, you know, they were shouting from the rooftops like, people need to understand the impact of the media on trauma survivors. And I was like, whoa, this is this is like, this has been a powder keg. People have been wanting to talk about this, but nobody's ever asked them about it. Which is, of course, ironic because we in the media go and ask trauma survivors about all, you know, the plethora of awful things that have happened to them, you know, the most personal things in their life. And we've never really asked them about the impact to the media. So there's that. And then from those surveys, you know, I had conversations with various survivors who would then refer me to other survivors, like there was a homicide survivor who referred me to a mass violence survivor who referred me to Ellen Green, who I just mentioned from Las Vegas. And it just created this web of survivors and relevant stakeholders. And I was just having these conversations. And it's like every single conversation and every single survey. And there were more than 100 trauma survivors alone and more than two dozen journalists who were involved in my research. Every single one of them, like, gave me like an ah ha moment or like connect with this or connect to that, just as you just said at the beginning, like, you know, an ongoing learning process. I that's why I love having these conversations because I'm constantly learning. So in terms of how I'm learning, like I try to learn through not making mistakes because it hits me really hard when I get things wrong. And I do still get things wrong. Like as as recently as this past weekend. I'm not going to get into it, but it was this thing happened where I'm like, oh, how did I not do that? How did I not warn this person about this? I really try to not learn through that now, and instead I try to learn through listening and having conversations with survivors and reading and podcasts. And when I was in the thick of my research, I read every book that somebody recommended. It recommended to me, whether it was a homicide survivor who said, you know, this is my memoir that I wrote and posted on Amazon, like, would you read it? Yes, I'll read it. And I had like a lot of those. Or it was it was, you know, Amy O'Neal, who's a mental health professional and also a Boston Marathon survivor who, you know, pointed me towards Dr. Bessel van der Kolk. And the Body Keeps the Score and Judith Hermann's Trauma and Recovery, I think it's called. And so I really spent a lot of time working, learning about the brain and also through therapy because I started actually really started therapy while I was doing this research project, because it really activated a lot of my trauma responses that I didn't know were there. And suddenly I was like, my world was crumbling down. I needed help, and I learned a lot from my therapist. I learned a lot about myself and the survivors that I work with. So that's how I try to learn. But I do learn through mistakes, and I like I once had one, um, gender justice advocate who I just love. Her name is Farrakhan up here in Canada. And I was talking to her about reporting on sexual violence. And I basically said, like, so how do we how do we take the harm out of this? And she said, you got to stop focusing on like zero harm, because if somebody is telling you their story of trauma, sexual violence, child sexual abuse, whatever it is, there's always going to be some harm that comes from that. You need to focus on harm reduction. So I do everything I can to reduce harm. Like Laura, I was telling you with my podcast and, and any time I'm going to be interviewing a survivor for something, I prepare them for what they can expect. These are the questions I'm thinking about asking you. Do any or any of these going to take you to an unsafe zone, or are they going to take you away from the the messages you're trying to get out there? What do you want to get out of this? And I make that the focus of what I'm doing. I also work really hard. Like when I do support survivors through my company, I try to prepare them as much as I can for all possible outcomes. You know, this is if you are going to go public. If you do want to release this statement, you know, this is one of the consequences of and one of the benefits of a statement versus speaking in front of a camera. This is what will happen potentially if you don't release anything. And that's totally fine. But this is what could potentially happen. This is what might be said on social media. You know, maybe just don't look at social media because people are a-holes and they just there's trolls and all this stuff, you know? So I really, really, really work hard. And I really like feel the weight of responsibility immensely to get things right for survivors. But sometimes I do learn through making mistakes, and that sucks. But the survivors that I work with know that I always want to hear from them. If something's not 100% okay, and it often, it often results in another thoughtful conversation and me learning and maybe writing about it or talking about it or whatever. But mostly it's just like me reflecting and like I actually had a woman tell me in this most recent thing that happened, she's like, this is somebody that I knew really well. And she said, Tamara, I'm telling you this, but I you need to just listen and then just forget about it. I don't want you going and like, crying about this over the weekend because I know how deeply you feel these things. I'm just the only reason I'm telling you this. Because I know you would want to know it. And I was like, thank you. Thank you for telling me. I'm going to cry a little, but then I'm going to move on from it because it's not guilt, it's growth. So I hope that answers your question.

00:16:14 I love that I'm stealing that. Yeah, I've always heard it referred to as well as like failing forward. Oh I like that. Right. As long as you're going to fall. But as long as you keep standing up and moving forward, it's going to be okay. Um, I do want to dive into like, practical tips and strategies for journalists and for survivors, but I want to go back to your research for a minute. You said something in a different interview about how you really couldn't find anything quantitative or qualitative, of why we even do what we do when it comes to reporting crime and violence in the media. I think the assumption is that, you know, clickbait, rage, bait advertising dollars. Right? But you were even mentioning that, like, it's actually turning people off from the news. So can you talk a little bit about that section. I just thought that was so fascinating because it just points to how many things do we do every day that we just do, and we don't even consider whether or not they're working the way that we want. Yes.

00:17:09 Because yeah, I think I think you can apply that to any ways that we do things wrong when it comes to trauma. Like you think about how. Police used to, and to an extent still do in a lot of departments interview survivors of sexual violence, for example. There are many police departments who have not gotten trauma-informed training, so they interview them in a way that they would interview the suspect because it's just the way it's always been done. As a journalist, I was never thinking clickbait or, you know, like maybe, maybe my bosses, probably not even my media bosses, but the bosses who like, you know, work on the upper floor with the white carpet where there's like the sticky stuff before you walk into their office. And I only actually entered one of those offices once, and I was like, whoa, maybe they're thinking about the clickbait. But journalists, by and large, like all the journalists I worked with, they go into this profession because they want to make a positive difference in this world, not because they want to hurt people, not because they want to sell more newspapers, not because they want, you know, the company I was working with like Bell Media to, like, really be able to reward their shareholders at the end of the year. Like, no, it's because, like, I'm going after that mother whose son has just been murdered because I want the mother in the wealthy neighborhood to care about the mother in the impoverished neighborhood, to connect to her as a mother, because I want the young woman whose boyfriend came home in the middle of the night and, like, stashed a gun or had blood on a shirt or whatever. I want that young woman to hear the pleas of this mother and call in a tip, you know, like that was that was what was motivating me to get that, you know, people would always say, and I'm sure you've heard it, if it bleeds, it leads, you know, and I would say, like, yeah, I'm always at the top of the newscast because this is important, because people need to know who's missing from our collective lives. Like, I really felt like everybody had to care about this. And I would be upset when police wouldn't wouldn't release the name of a homicide victim at the request of the family. Because I would say, like, we need to know, we need to be able to look into this. The public needs to understand that this tragedy has occurred. I totally forget what your question was, Laura. I just like I got on a phone call.

00:19:28 The question was just, you know, what did your research show? Because I remember you mentioned.

00:19:31 Right? Right. Right. Yes.

00:19:32 It's not as if the way that the media recovers crime is actually preventing crime.

00:19:39 Yeah, exactly.

00:19:40 Solving crime better than if it did it differently.

00:19:43 Or maybe it is, but nobody's done the research. What I basically am saying, like, is. Show me that showing that mangled car from that drunk driving fatality. Show me that that causes fewer people to drink and drive. Show me that. Having that grieving mother on the 6:00 news less than 24 hours after her child was murdered, show me that that results in more quality tips that are actually leading to an arrest. Show me that. Because police. I know police today have a lot of really great investigative tools at their disposal with cell phone, video and dash cams and surveillance video everywhere, and the internet and everything. And I bet if somebody actually did the research, and who knows, maybe I'll get so frustrated one day that I'll just do it. I don't know, I can't imagine it at this point. I bet that more times than not, those don't make a difference, that they might be positive for the family. And there's there's one case that I refer to in my book where I think about this: the family of this young man who was murdered in Toronto, and he was just murdered because he happened to be walking through this one neighborhood. And there was this, like, tit-for-tat gang violence that was going back and forth, and he was just there to visit his buddy. And somebody just shot the first person that they saw. And it was, you know, an awful, awful story. And I remember going and sitting with his family and, and I knew that, you know, well, I'm getting ahead of myself. I sat with his family, and it was very hard time for them. But that said, like, first of all, I sat with them with the the blessing of the homicide investigator who basically liaised with them first. So looking back, it's like I did things right and that he put me in touch with the family. So, there was some sort of conversation. And I know that homicide investigator pretty well. Really compassionate, empathetic guy. And I really don't think he'd be doing something that was not in the best interest of the family. But they also had, like, this was a Nigerian Canadian family, and they had people from the Nigerian Canadian Association there with them supporting them. And sometimes, like taking the microphone on their behalf so that they didn't need to be the ones who are speaking. And so there are all these things that sort of went right. But then I was thinking back on this case, and the stepfather of this victim filled out one of my surveys, and he said in his survey, like, I think it was the question where I asked, you know, do you see value in survivors sharing their stories publicly? And he basically said, like, only if there's a reason for doing so, only if they can make a difference, you know, otherwise you shouldn't be bugging them. And I knew from that case that case was not solved based on that very heartfelt plea, actually. In fact, I think there were 2 or 3 that the family did over the course of that first week. It was solved through those other investigative means. But then when I went back to the homicide investigator, because I wanted to confirm that when I was when I was writing, like, like, did it have anything to do? He said, no. But I think in the case of that family, it gave them a purpose in that moment. And I do think that is true with some families, but that is a really like roundabout way of me saying most of the time I think it only causes harm, especially in the immediate aftermath when that cloud of shock hasn't lifted, when literally people's brains who are experiencing that level of trauma, like they literally most of the times, are not even capable of properly verbalizing what is going on and how they're feeling. And as a result, it can not only cause harm in that moment because it's taking them away from things like funeral arrangements or taking care of other children or whatever, but it can cause harm further down the road when that cloud of shock lifts and they reflect back on how they were preyed upon, stalked, harassed, you know, attacked. These are these are the the words that survivors were using to describe how they felt with the media attention that they got, you know, put on like a bug under a microscope. Um, and that's just awful, you know, that we can not only be causing harm in the immediate aftermath, but down the road when they think that and they're like, but I didn't want to talk like I thought I said, no, why, why, why is there this clip on of me on the internet forever with, you know, curlers in my hair and I'm in my bathrobe. I'm sounding like that, like, that is not me. That was me in that moment. But that is not me today, you know? So, um, yeah, I would love to see research that shows us that that's always the case. That's that that's actually helpful. I would also love to see research because I've done this anecdotally, whereas I do a lot of fill-in radio hosting in Canada. And every once in a while, I like to do a segment on like his talk radio. We have people calling in, I like to do a segment on what do you want from your news, you know? If you see a body bag on the news, do you lean in or do you change the channel? If you see that dramatic cell phone video like is that actually what you want to see? Because there is research that shows that if you watch, if you consume that wall-to-wall coverage of, say, the latest mass shooting, you're at a higher risk of developing PTSD. So there is research that shows that we are actually harming people who have nothing to do with this event, like forget the people involved in the event. We know that we're harming them, but we're actually causing further harm to our viewers and our readers. Bottom line, there needs to be more research. And I really think that the news media does things in this way, because it's just the way they've always that they've always done it, and nobody's ever told them that what they're doing is wrong. And nobody ever told me, nobody ever mentioned trauma informed anything or trauma period. When I was in journalism school or any of the newsrooms that I worked in, because I think also with the media, with the news media, rightfully so. They hold their, you know, journalistic independence and editorial independence and integrity very close to their chest. And I say rightfully so, because they have to be holding politicians to account. They need to be, you know, speaking truth to power and all of these things. But what I'm trying to say to them is when it comes to trauma, in the words of journalist and mass violence survivor Selene San Felice, I'm stealing a line from her that I quote her on this over and over and over again. When it comes to trauma, it's just different. We can't be treating it like we're going and interviewing the politician, or we're going and interviewing, you know, a doctor about the latest, you know, virus that's going around. It is different. These people do not have media handlers. They are not in the state of mind where even if they have been coached on how to act, where they can even like take those tips into account. So nobody's ever told them that. And, and I, I hear resoundingly from journalists who are like, I talked to a lot of journalism students, young journalists, and that's great. I want them starting their career on the right, on the right path. But I also hear a lot from and speak a lot to working journalists who have been in their careers for more than two decades. Like I heard recently from a journalist who's, gosh, he, he, he has to have been doing this job for like three decades and who read my book and said, like, thank you. I'm doing this differently now because I wish somebody would have said this to me years ago, because I'm really reflecting a lot now in all the ways I've got things wrong, but they're changing it now. Journalists don't want to do harm, and so I'm trying to tell them gently, I got things wrong. I was a respected journalist. I got things wrong a lot. You're probably getting things wrong, too. Here's how you can do better, not only by the people you're reporting on, but by yourself, so that you're not suffering that needless moral injury that so many journalists suffer.

00:27:47 I love that, and it makes you the perfect messenger for that message to be received because you're one of them. And this is a lovely segue, because a lot of what we talk about at KTP is while everyone can be change makers and cycle breakers, the onus really needs to stay at the systems level, right? We can't do it individually alone. It has to scale all the way up. So when you think about institutions, whether it's media organizations or even journalism schools, right? What through your research and just experience, what do you think needs to change and what are what are 3 or 4 really simple tips that they could be doing? 

Oh my gosh, better if we can build trauma into the curriculum. It needs to be in the curriculum. When I was doing my research, I think in like, uh, it would have been late 2020 or early 2021. One of the research assistants I had working with me, I asked her to look at like I gave her a list of like, these are like the top 18, I don't remember. I probably misquoting myself. It's in the book. These are like the top 18 journalism schools in Canada, in the United States. And I had her go through all the course descriptions, and I think that there were two, maybe three that mentioned trauma. I think it was two. And one of them was like through another institution that they worked with. And it was like elective stuff like trauma needs to be in the curriculum for every journalism student. I don't care if they think they're going to write for a snowboarding magazine, because you got to start out somewhere and it's probably going to be in daily news. And when you're a young journalist, they're throwing you into those door knocks. They're telling you to call down the phone book. Young people are like, what's a phone book? It's what we used to use. They're telling you to call down the Yellow Pages, whatever. But so everybody needs to learn about it. Number two. Newsrooms, because there's a lot of working journalists, obviously, who are not still in school, and there's a lot of journalists who don't go through journalism school. They come at it from a different path. Maybe they were lawyers, maybe they were teachers. Whatever newsrooms need to offer trauma training, they need to and they need to make sure. Just as I was hauled into the newsroom every year to learn about what to do in case of an earthquake, I only experienced 2 or 3 earthquakes during my like 15 years in Toronto and didn't feel the impact of any of them, but I felt the impact of trauma on a daily basis. Just as you're calling me in every year to learn what sexual harassment looks like and inappropriate conversations with colleagues and all these things and go through that module, talk to me about trauma. You know, not talk to me about how we should be reporting on trauma and how we should be taking care of ourselves. Create a newsroom policy on trauma so that when there is a huge spike in trauma and there is that pressure to just get it all, get it out as fast as you can, you know, get it ahead of the competition. You actually have a policy in place where actually we don't call this person for the first 24 hours or actually we don't show those images. Oh, we just got cell phone video sent to us of where you can hear the gunshots inside the classroom. No, we're not going to show that because we actually have a period of time in our policy where we have to let it go by. So we're not going to get into speculation and hysteria, and we're not going to activate the trauma responses of the hundreds of thousands of people out there who could potentially be consuming this, who have also experienced gun violence, you know, or millions of people. It depends what you're talking about. So have those policies in place, have the training in place, create an environment that values self-care and talking and peer support. Because most journalists I talked to and for sure I was one of them, whether it is because of something that's happened to them or just like perception in general about this industry, because it is highly competitive and we are often told there's 100 people lined up outside the door waiting to take your job, create an environment where people feel comfortable going and saying, I really can't cover this funeral. I was there when they brought the bodies out. I saw the families. I just can't, I'm not okay today. I'm happy to go do the dog and pony show. Put me on that story, or you want to throw me in City Hall, do that, you know, or where newsrooms already have a system in place not just for how they report on things, but how they assign stories. So when we talk about vicarious trauma, I don't think I've mentioned that today, but journalists are obviously at a very high risk of developing vicarious trauma. I certainly did, where they have like an Excel sheet. This is something that was mentioned to me by a former colleague of mine, a camera guy who suffered PTSD. I talk about it in the book, like, why not just have like an Excel sheet at the assignment desk where they're like, okay, there's breaking news, who's available? Okay, that person's available. But if he was just at that traffic fatality yesterday, so we're not going to send him because he's had his trauma bucket might still be full or they called us, you know. And so they already have those systems in place. So you need to foster that environment. You need to have the systems in place. You need to have the training in place. And like you said Laura, it needs to come. Or was it you, Jesse? I think it was Laura that said it needs to come from the top down. It needs to be systemic because quite often I have journalism students and journalists coming to me and like, oh, what do I do if my boss says no? Or like, I'm on a contract, you know, like that's why sometimes I tell them, like, just don't tell your boss. Just tell them that you, you knocked on the door and you didn't because they're never going to get it. There are certain people that just need to retire before things actually change, but this needs to come from the top down. It needs to be led by, you know, a young journalist needs to see that there's not going to be consequences, either spoken or unspoken, to them not going and knocking on that family's door again, you know, even if, well, they talk to somebody else. So now I guess they're speaking. No, that's not what that means. They already told us. No, they've got our business card or even better, you know, and I've been talking a lot about newsrooms and journalism institutions, but something I also often say is like, we need to look bigger than that. It's not just on journalism, it is on victim service providers. You know, victim advocates in the United States need to be trained on the media. They need to understand the impact to the media, and they need to understand how they can. Act as a liaison. So there is that barrier. Because guess what is a journalist? If I don't have somebody that I can call to say, is this family talking? Do they want to release a statement? Then I'm going to that family, you know? And nine times out of ten there isn't anybody to call, you know, and journalists don't have the time, at least in their minds. I don't have time to go looking for somebody with 1 or 2 degrees of separation, or I don't have a relationship with that homicide investigator, or I don't have, you know, like newsrooms are strapped for resources. It's rare to have a full-time crime reporter. You know, when I was a crime reporter in Toronto, I think I was one of one, two, three, four full-time, like crime reporters in the city of many, many journalists. Lots of newsrooms don't have beat reporters anymore because they just don't have the resources. So they're throwing people into court who have never covered court. They're throwing people into door knocks who have never done that. Yeah. So I would just say, like, we need to be working more collaboratively, victim service providers, journalists, or as I like to say, instead of victim service providers, providers, survivors, support workers, homicide investigators, traffic fatality investigators. Forget what you think about police or this or that. Everyone needs to come together and have conversations about how they can better support these survivors and what each of them needs to do their jobs.

00:35:32 It's such a beautiful example. We talk a lot about how trauma at any level creates fragmentation, siloing. And so at a systems level, you're really illustrating how we can think outside the box to create buffers against the stress that individuals like survivors are experiencing in the families are experiencing by creating other systemic supports, recognizing the other systemic stressors that the media is facing. And, you know, if there isn't anything to replace the like, the resources that we're looking for with, then we're just going to keep doing the same thing. And so how, you know, that's just one idea that came up here. But like getting together and really coming up with thoughtful ways about creating a survivor-centered and focused and trauma-informed approach to journalism. Media is really critical going like in the survivor-focused area. And we started to touch on this. But in your book, a lot of survivors, as you said, express concerns about media coverage of traumatic events broadly. And I'm just curious, as you talk about like there needs to be trauma-informed training in media schools. There needs to be trauma when we integrate those practices and really apply what the learnings would be. What are the practical tips and ways that journalists can balance that need for accurate and timely reporting with the ethical responsibility of treating traumatized individuals with care and dignity?

00:37:08 So I think first we need to rethink what timely reporting is. What do we need to know in the immediate aftermath? What do we need to hear? What do we need to see? You know, there was just a mass shooting. I don't know when this is going to air, but very recently, the mass shooting that happened in Maine, and I was actually hosting a national radio show at that at that time. And it was near the end of the show that, you know, during the commercial break that I learned about this through my producer and he's saying, oh, we got to we got to come back with, you know, we we're trying to get one of our NBC affiliates to do a hit with us and tell us what's going on. And I had to say like, whoa, whoa, we're a Canadian national radio station. We need to think about what is the news value in the immediate like right now, because we're going to be getting speculation at this point, you know? So we need to be very careful to not cause hysteria because we will be activating people's trauma responses, because we do have mass violence survivors here in Canada, too. Um, we do have survivors of many traumatic events who, just by hearing them, tended to da da da da da. The breaking news sounder are going to be in that state of fight or flight. And in the immediate aftermath, you'll probably recall that law enforcement officials released the images of the shooter, like in, in, in the, you know, in the process of the, of the tragedy that was unfolding with the guns. And I saw that and I'm like, oh my God. Like, that is this is going to be what ends up on, like, the dark web as to inspire the next mass shooter. You know, and this is not something I want to be telling people about. And so again, I'm thinking, and here up here in Canada, we don't need to be amplifying those photos because our listeners are probably not going to be able to tell authorities down in Maine who this guy is and where he is now. You know, so it's about, first of all, rethinking what is actually what you need right now. What do you need right now? If there is an active situation and you need to tell, you need to tell people information to keep them safe. Absolutely. You tell them that. And we've had that up here in Canada too, with descriptions and this person's out there, all that stuff. Do we need to hear from the mother who just found out that her child is among the dead? Do we need to be waiting outside that family gathering center after the latest mass shooting and clipping people as they come out? Do we really need to talk to people, literally, who have just found out that their missing loved one is among the dead? I would say no. So number one, we wouldn't be. Waiting outside those centers that are set up. We wouldn't be waiting outside the hospital. We would be in practice. We would be making ourselves available for if and when people want to talk to us. And there would be somebody that they can communicate to say, I'm ready to talk to the media or who should I talk to? But again, we're not there yet. So journalists, practical things that you can do. The number one thing that we need to do and trauma expert and survivor of sexual violence, Louise Godbold really brought this point home for me is the we need to unbalance the power or balance out the power more because there is a huge power imbalance between the journalist and the survivor who's talking. The journalist writes the questions, asks the questions, edits the story, puts it out when they want to or their bosses want to, or whatever chooses the headline. The journalist doesn't. It's usually a headline writer. Whatever. All these things, the survivor has zero power in this situation. They're quite often not even told. You don't need to talk to me if you don't want to, you know. Or you can have a support person with you during this interview. They're quite often not even told those things. And so something I learned from Ellen Green down in Las Vegas was a lot of survivors don't say no because they don't want to be rude, you know, or they don't realize that they can. And how incredible is that to think of somebody speaking and having this additional harm caused to them because they don't want to be rude to the person who's just showing up unannounced outside their door during their darkest, darkest hours. Um, so we would not be outside that door. We would be working with the liaison, and we would be back to the power imbalance. We would be giving power to the survivor. This is what I want to ask you about. You know, before I turn on my voice recorder or bring out the camera. This is what I want to talk to you about. Are you comfortable talking about these things? What makes you feel better? If you start feeling yourself getting into that danger zone, you know, do you want to have your pet in your lap? What support person would you like here with you? What do you not want to talk about? And they might say, I don't want to talk about, just don't tell. Ask me about that day. You know, maybe you're talking to a survivor months after something happened. Just don't ask me about that day. I'm happy to talk about the impacts or whatever. Don't ask me about that day. So then, as the journalist, if I hear them starting to talk about that day, I can say, sorry to interrupt you. I don't want to interrupt you, but I know this isn't something that you I know this is something you did not want to talk about. Do you want to switch back years or are you deciding, like, are you comfortable with this? Because we can stop. We can have a discussion about this off-camera. You know, journalists would give more of that power to the survivor. They would explain that we're going to be sitting and talking for maybe half an hour or an hour, but at the end of the day, I only have a minute and a half in the newscast for this story, or two minutes or 400 words in the paper or 500 words. So I want to make sure that we get across whatever it is that you want to get across, because you need to know that I'm only going to be able to actually pick 2 or 3 clips from this, or 2 or 3 quotes. You know, it would be saying, are you comfortable with me using the photos that you posted online of your loved one, you know? Or is there something else that you want out there? Or you know you have a public Facebook profile? Again, the kids are saying, What's Facebook? That's what a lot of people use who are like of our generation. So you have a public Facebook profile. I don't know if you intend for it to be public, public, or if that was made public before your son or daughter was killed. We have pictures from there. Is it okay that we use them? And they might say like, oh my gosh, I don't even know what I have on there. Can I just like have a look, you know, so it's about giving that power back like that is that is the biggest thing is addressing that power imbalance and giving agency to survivors, which is very counterintuitive to how journalists are trained to do our jobs. We are trained because, again, going back to holding those politicians to account, you know, speaking truth to power, all that stuff, we are trained to just take and not give, and we don't want to have any, you know, any anybody thinking that we are biased or anything like that. But if we have decided that this person is a victim or that this person is a trauma survivor, if we have decided and we are open with that, and the reason we're talking to this person is to get their story of trauma, we need to give them the power we need to be. This is another one that really goes against a lot of journalism newsroom policies, but it is a big one that I push. It is about showing the survivor that story before the rest of the world sees it. And not because, you know, let them edit it, let them, you know, fix your punctuation or change their minds about something. Yeah, they might change their minds. And that's okay. We should honor that because it's them that is giving us their message. But it's really about taking away that element of surprise that can be so harmful for survivors. It's really about not making that survivor flinch. By a story about their trauma. You know, we should never be making survivors flinch. By a story about their trauma, not by the images that we show or the sounds that we play, or the words that we use, or the questions that we ask, or the timing of our stories or where our stories are going to appear. We should be giving them as much information as possible and not leaving them wondering like, oh, when's it going to come out? Or what's it going to? What's it going to look like? It is like it is crazy when you think about it. The survivors give so much of their hearts and their souls and the journalists just leave, and then they just don't know what's going to happen with that. And like, that is it's so harmful. And I've heard it so many times. And then the final thing I'll say, and there's like a million things I could say, but I know that this is not a days long podcast is follow up with that survivor. Make sure that they're okay after the interview. You got to be taking care of them before the interview, during the interview, and after the interview. As a journalist, I never understood the importance of follow-up. In fact, I often felt like, well, if I were to call them a week later to see how they're doing, I'm just going to like, bring them back to that bad time. It's going to bring up negative feelings, but should have been alarm bell, an alarm bell for me. Like, oh, if I'm going to remind them of something really negative, then maybe I shouldn't have been there. Maybe I wasn't doing my job the way that I should have been doing it. If I'm a negative reminder in their life. Yeah. So it's about, you know, closing that trauma lid as homicide survivor Shauna Brown taught me, you know, you need to if you're going to open up that lid, you have a responsibility to close it up and then check on that survivor after the fact of that.

00:46:47 And I think that's a good segue into my next question, because a lot of folks who are listening to this are in the trauma-informed movement at large nonprofits, organizations, coalitions, that sort of thing. And part of us even sort of struggle with this at CTIPP. Right. We have power in storytelling, and it's how you get past the facts and the statistics and actually help people absorb and relate to the content. Right. Which then empowers policy change. So putting on the survivor hat for a minute, right. And maybe not even sharing with media, maybe like there's a really beautiful like lovely nonprofit in your community that wants yes story to move the mission forward. Right. Like you've said already, sort of so many good nuggets in terms of how survivors can empower themselves. But any others, like what would be sort of your top tips for folks who do want to share their story and may not know the rules of engagement, or know somebody who doesn't know? Yeah. Informed, right?

00:47:48 I want to talk about that first. That might be working with the nonprofit piece. I'm so happy that you brought that up, because I think that a lot of nonprofits, a lot of people in the trauma-informed space, they obviously do a lot of excellent work for survivors and everything. But when it comes to actually telling their stories of their agency or their organization, they often lean on the stories of their members or their clients and people who have been traumatized to raise that public awareness, to get donations. And I get it. I get the power of storytelling, but they often don't do it in a trauma-informed way. So everything I just said about journalists applies to anybody working in a nonprofit, if you want to. I always say, like, if your job involves extracting somebody's trauma, whether you're a nonprofit worker, you know, you're working at a shelter. You're doing intake questions, or you're an emergency room doctor, or you're a teacher or you're a journalist, whatever. You're a researcher, you have a responsibility to take care of that person through the process. So if you're a nonprofit, I would say, you know, it's really important to have that conversation ahead of time, especially about the implications of sharing their story. So I talk to there's a woman in m book, Michelle Anderson, who spent her career working with human trafficking survivors and sex workers in Toronto. And she recalled one young woman who had shared her story in, like, the 90s or something. This is what happened because she was at a point in her healing that she wanted to, like, shout from the rooftops like, this is, you know, look out for this, blah, blah, blah, blah. Fast forward X number of years and she is now studying to become a social worker. And what video does her professor put on, but one that she appeared in all those years ago and that was very harmful for her, you know? So first off, I think that nonprofits need to have conversations with their clients who might be wanting to shout from the rooftops, but all the great work that they do, great. But they need to understand the possible implications down the road and therefore maybe they'll change. Like, oh, maybe I don't want my last name in there, or maybe I just want to be in printed material and not on camera or maybe they'll still say, no, I still want to do it. But then you're telling them, okay, if at any point you get to the point in your journey that you don't want to be sharing it anymore, let us know, and we'll take it off our website. We'll take it out of our. Materials, that sort of thing. So I'm so happy that you said that because you have that conversation, and then you also have the conversation about what do you want to talk about? You, you know, or if, for example, you're in the middle of a public awareness campaign like there's one organization in Canada that it's an international organization. But the Canada chapter I've done a lot of work with and they support a lot of survivors. I'm not going to be too specific on this, but they support survivors who have experienced immense trauma. And I ended up doing media pitching for them, not because they hired me directly, but because the PR firm that they were working with hired me because they needed that, just simply because they needed more support in doing media outreach. I'm like, yeah, I'll do it. I really support this organization. I love the work that they do. But I quickly realized that if they hadn't asked me to do that, then these very traumatized people literally would have just been asked by any other PR person. Okay, so what's your contact information? When are you available? And just tell me what what's your story like, just so that I know what to pitch to media. And that would have been hugely harmful. And I know this because when I did work with them, and I've done a lot of work with them, now, when I sit with their survivors, it always starts with a conversation and often goes on like for an hour. And I'm not saying, okay, what happened to you? I'm saying like, what message do you want to get across? Why are you participating in this campaign? What do you want to get out of it? Are you comfortable with something like a live interview? Are you comfortable with like are you comfortable with a phone conversation? Are you comfortable with this? Like, and then I get all of those things that I can then bring to the journalist and somebody who's working for a nonprofit and do these things, go to the journalist and say, I have somebody willing to speak with you, but you can't show images of the scene. For example, when this person died, you can't show this like they don't. Doing that will make it a harmful experience. And I want this to be a healing experience for them and a positive experience for all so they can talk to you. But like don't use this word to describe them. Use this word instead. You know? So acting as that liaison between the survivor and the journalist when it comes to the survivor, I have a list of tips on my website. If anybody Googles my company Pickup Communications, I do have some tips on there for survivors or people who are supporting survivors, just with some, arming them with some simple information of why are journalists calling me in during this time of grief? Or why would they want to talk to me? Or what happens if I don't? I do have some of those. I also know that echo training, which is the trauma expert, Louise Godbold, who I referred to earlier, she is the executive director of Echo Training. They do a lot of training around trauma. They've created some excellent infographics around trauma and everything like that. They also recently released a list of questions that survivors can ask a journalist who wants to interview them. And it's got some excellent stuff in there. But again, I know that most survivors probably wouldn't seek that out. So any nonprofits or trauma-informed organizations that are listening to this, you know, seek out information like that, because there's things in there that you wouldn't think about asking, you know, and like things like, if you're going to have me sign, sign an image release form or something like that, like, can you send it to me ahead of time? Like, that was so helpful because I was I was recently supporting a homicide survivor who was doing like a big sit-down interview for this big, this pretty, like, significant production. And when we were there, they hand the form like, oh, we just need you to sign this. Like, what is it, say, in this form? Like we're trying to give control, not take away control, because you're also rushing us to get the questions answered. So, um, that sort of tip sheet can give you an idea of the sorts of things that you can talk to a journalist about ahead of time. And I would encourage survivors to look at that as well. But survivor is, I would say like, number one, what do you want to get out of this? And if there's nothing, then you don't need to do it. You don't need to talk to the media. You can just like Jay Morgan, who at the time of this recording, she's she's the survivor who's featured in my podcast this week. She is a survivor of drunk driving. Her mother was killed by a drunk driver. And like the advice that she had for other survivors was, this is your time if you need if what you need is to hide in your basement with the curtains closed, then you do that. You don't owe anything to anybody. But if there is something that you want to get out there and now I'm picking this up, this is me saying this. If there is something you want to do, then just be very clear on why you're doing it and what your intentions are and have that conversation. And just so that you can be as informed as possible so you can make an informed decision. As to whether or not you want to work with this journalist, and also ask around if you know somebody who works in the media, like who would you trust? Or is there a journalist that I should work with or I shouldn't work with? Because I know from working in Toronto there are certain people I'd be like, no, do not talk to that person that would be harmful to you, or do talk to this person because they really care and they're open to, you know, being flexible in their traditional newsroom policies when it comes to making accommodations for survivors. And actually, that's something that just came to me. Accommodations. I'm sure I've used that word before, but maybe not that much. We talk about accommodations all the time for people that have various conditions medical, mental, whatever. We need to be okay with making accommodations for trauma survivors just on the basis that they do have trauma brain, or they have experienced this traumatic event, or they are very vulnerable to having their trauma responses activated. So let's call it that. Accommodations mean that you show them the story ahead of time and that you allow them to pick the place and time, and who's with them of the interview and the questions, Vito, the questions, all of these things.

00:56:27 I appreciate the ways in which you've integrated a lot of high-level, trauma-informed principles. Right. The four Rs of realize when there's trauma, recognize signs and symptoms, respond effectively, and resist re-traumatization. And then throughout this episode, you've also integrated the six principles of various times of creating conditions of safety. How are we modeling trust and transparency, providing peer support, collaboration and mutuality. And then of course, empowerment, voice and choice within the process all throughout. And a recognition of cultural, historical and gender issues like I won't go into the various ways like throughout this episode that you've tied those together, but I appreciate the ways in which we're discussing that deeper integration, because there's a level of like trauma awareness where I know about trauma, I know these what I just said, the four Rs, the six principles. And then there's a deeper level of how am I actually making that happen. And I know that you mentioned a day-long podcast that's a new thing that we can explore.

00:57:30 Days, long days. I could talk for days, Jesse.

00:57:33 We'll we'll look into that for the future. But recognizing that we have to start wrapping up, I just have one more big question from my perspective, which at that systems level, from a non media person myself, it feels like the 24-hour news cycle, the constant competition across various media stations that exist there is this want and need to create, you know, that sort of shock value that's going to draw people in because it gets you extra viewers, that then gets you more, you know, advertising dollars, however, totally the system works to me. I also believe that the hopeful stories get more clicks and to me, part of being trauma-informed is not just a deficit base of like recognizing that trauma exists. We do recognize that, but because of that knowledge, we also have an underlying understanding of the importance of building hope, the importance of sharing positive messages, and just the ways in which, at a systems level, hopefully over time, the media at large may be able to adjust the way that it tells stories to uplift more of those hopeful stories. I was a big before jeopardy! My family would always watch ABC World News Tonight, and it would be like 25 minutes of just horrible stuff, right? And then right before jeopardy! There was like the one kind of happy story most days. So that was also a sad story, but leave with hope, and there's just a lot more hope. The work that we do that I feel gets underreported, the communities that we work alongside, people all over, all around the world, all across the country. There is a lot of hopeful work that is going on, and just ways that the media may be able to uplift more of that, to create more positive, perpetuating cycles throughout society, instead of just these dark sort of abysses that we feel like the world is just. On fire all around us all the time. And that's all that's going on.

00:59:36 Yeah, because I know that, like a lot of the trauma survivors who are involved in my research told me, I don't watch the news anymore. I don't read the news anymore. Or if I do, I do it in very controlled ways. And I'm starting to hear that now, anecdotally from friends and family members in my life who are not survivors of specific incidents, but they just cannot anymore. And there is a danger in that as well, because we need to be having thoughtful conversations about important things happening in the world. I do believe that we should have create empathy in the world and stuff like that. But I urge newsrooms to ask their audiences like, don't just assume because, yeah, your clickbait, you are getting a lot of clicks on that, that people prefer that like ask people, what do they want? Also, become trauma-informed. Really commit yourself to trauma-informed journalism and then, you know, like increasingly we're seeing stories like up here in Canada, there's been a lot of stories about the residential schools and, and all of the children who died in the residential school system and who didn't return home to their indigenous communities. There's been a lot of reporting on that lately, and it's become pretty commonplace to, at the end of the story or the end of the news segment, have a line there saying, this is the number that you can call for support if, you know, this is the residential school support line, whatever. Why can't we have a line at the top of the story or at the bottom of the story saying this story was reported as per our trauma-informed principles or as per our trauma-informed policy, which you can read here. You know, and that means that people will see that that means that survivor got to read it. All these things. You know, I really do think that I know we're talking about positive stories. I think we need to I'm going to address that first. The so one thing I want to point out is when I look at like my traffic fatality and homicide survivor responses, because that's that's the groups that I got the most responses from the 71 people who filled out that initial survey, most of them were contacted by members of the media in the immediate aftermath. Most of them experience negative outcomes from the media, and yet most of them see value in survivors sharing their stories publicly. Why? Quite often, it was because survivors can help other survivors. They can help them heal. They can help them feel less alone. You know they can they can help. They can help because they can give them hope. Oh my gosh, that person's child was murdered two years ago and they're still alive. They're laughing, they're smiling. They're they're not in this state that I am still in. They still have hard days. But, you know, so I do think that that is very important. And I think that also helps survivors a lot. And if we can give survivors purpose a positive purpose and in sharing their stories, that helps them heal and that helps other people here. And certainly I've experienced that through my research, both when I first published my research paper, but then with my book, so many survivors telling me I'm so happy to be a part of this process because I really feel like it's leading to change. And that is so helpful for them. And it's also very healing for me as well. But what I was going to say from the consumer standpoint is I always say, like when I'm talking to like a general audience, like I was talking like on the social, which is like our view up here in Canada. What do you want to talk? What do you want? What do you want our customer or our audience to know? Because they're not journalists. Probably, they're not victims' service providers. I say we demand that our clothes are not sewn together by a five-year-old in Bangladesh. We demand that our coffee beans are ethically sourced. Demand that your news is ethically sourced. Where is that policy on trauma-informed practice? You know what? How are you supporting your journalists from vicarious trauma and moral injury? You know, how are you like, show us news media that your journalism is ethically sourced? Because I and I really think that the world is moving in that direction because there is a lot of awful stuff out there. Thanks. Social media, very divisive things, lots of polarization. But I really think that people are coming to the point that they're hungry for that thoughtful conversation that they can really trust. Show us why we should trust that it's okay for me to be watching this true crime doc on Netflix all about the serial killer from X number of years ago. Show me the process that you took to make sure that the families of those victims were okay with it. You know, show me that this was an ethically sourced podcast or, like I said, true crime doc or minute and a half news story that I that I'm consuming right now. Otherwise, I'm going to shut it off. So. That's my piece.

01:04:26 That's wonderful. Well, thank you so, so very much for your time. We've really appreciated this conversation. And just to our listeners, once again, her book is The Trauma Beat A case for Rethinking the Business of Bad News. And if you go to, you can also find a Trauma-Informed Journalism Toolkit, as well as there's a piece of our advocacy series that focuses on storytelling and modeling the model. So thank you again so much.

01:04:52 Thanks for having me. I really appreciate this conversation.


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