Natasha Veeser
William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications

KU among first to develop journalism course on covering traumatic events

Tue, 08/30/2011

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas School of Journalism is taking a step not often seen in journalism schools around the country by implementing a course specifically designed to educate journalism students on how to cover the traumatic and violent events often encountered in their potential future line of work.

Journalism 201 — “Current Issues in Journalism: Trauma and Media” — is being taught by Teresa Trumbly Lamsam beginning this semester. Lamsam is in her second year at KU as a visiting associate professor from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and is also an expert on Native American media. KU previously incorporated a trauma module in its “Media and Military” class, and last year, Lamsam taught “Trauma and Media” as a module in Journalism 415 “Multimedia reporting.”

School of Journalism Dean Ann Brill says utilizing resources with appropriate training in the area of trauma and the media is a tremendous benefit to students.

“Unfortunately, we live in a world where trauma is part of the news most days,” Brill said. “Fortunately, we have trained and competent journalists reporting on such events. This course is excellent training for future journalists.”

Lamsam says the need for curriculum educating future journalists on how to cover traumatic events is critical to prevent as many “on the job training” situations as possible, when journalists are confronted with trauma or violence they are often unprepared to handle, from covering the event and the victims, to how the event will impact the journalist.

“We’re equipping students earlier in their journalism education here at KU in part because they will become so involved in media work long before they graduate,” Lamsam said.

Lamsam began developing a syllabus for media and trauma education after receiving a fellowship through the DART Center for Journalism and Trauma last year. The School of Communication at the University of Nebraska at Omaha has also moved forward with adding similar curriculum, thanks in part to Lamsam. DART, a project developed by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, offers journalists training and resources worldwide, in an effort to better train them to deal with traumatic events. The project funded a study conducted by the International Center for the Media and Public Agenda to find out how often trauma and violence coverage education was being conducted in 106 journalism schools across the country, with the findings showing nearly 75 percent did not offer topic-specific education.

Meg Spratt, academic programs director for DART, said that while the goal is not to frighten students from pursuing a career in journalism, it is important for students to have some method of preparation for what they will likely encounter after they leave school.

“When I go to student conferences, we get dozens of students in any workshop we do on tragedy. There’s a real student hunger for this information,” Spratt said.

The “Trauma and Media” class is a stand-alone large lecture taught mostly to freshmen and sophomores. Students on the News and Information tracks, as well as the Strategic Communication tracks, will be included in the training.

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