Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Journalists Under Fire

Yesterday on NPR, Fresh Air had on Chris Cramer. He was a reporter for the BBC in 1980 when he was applying for a visa at the Iranian embassy in London. You may recall that there was a hostage siege at the Iranian embassy in London that year, and lucky Mr. Cramer happened to be there when the terrorists showed up. He was held captive for a day and a half.

Following that experience, he decided that perhaps he did not want to be covering war and conflict and went into management. He was an executive at the BBC, president of CNN International, and is now Global Editor for Multimedia at Reuters. More interestingly, at least for the Quarterback's purposes, Cramer is President of the International News Safety Institute.

I, for one, had never heard of INSI, but they look pretty cool. They are committed to having safety standards for journalists. Very controversially, Cramer was among the first to say that, "no story is worth a life." INSI also trains journalists who are going into conflict areas on things like battle first aid, how to survive a kidnapping, and other light topics.

From a CISM point of view, all that training not only gives journalists the skills that they need if they're going to be in the middle of a war zone, but it also serves to inoculate them against the stress of the experience, at least to some degree. You may recall the Quarterback's recent speculations about New York Times columnist David Rohde and how he might be doing following his recent escape from the Taliban. It might be interesting to know if he had gone through INSI training.

Cramer talked a lot about how journalists know when to take a break, and about the need for managers to tell them when it's time to come home because they don't always see the situation clearly up close. He also talked about how some journalists immediately go see a counselor when they come back from an assignment, and others have trusted friends they talk to.

This is a poster child advertisement for Critical Incident Stress Management. The original idea behind CISM is that first responders would be more comfortable talking to another first responder -- a peer -- than to a counselor, so it was important to train the peers in early crisis intervention and train the mental health professionals both in early crisis intervention and in working with peers. Seems like the same principle might apply to journalists: If folks are going to talk to their peers about traumatic experiences, let's train the peers.

The Quarterback has no idea whether there are journalists out there -- a few or a lot -- who are trained in CISM. It sure sounds like there should be. And if they need a Quarterback to train them, I know just the person!


Meet the Quarterback

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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at www.SchoolCrisisConsultant.com
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