Our Policies on Trauma Reporting
The War Horse believes that reporting on trauma comes with a great responsibility. Not only do we expect to hold ourselves to these standards, but we encourage our sources and readers to do the same.
- You don’t ‘get it’ or ‘understand’ what a source has been through. Every story is unique. Every experience is unique. If our stories aren’t unique, we are doing a disservice to our sources and our readers. Research conditions and circumstances. But once you have done your research, leave it at the door. It doesn’t matter how much knowledge you have on the topic, you can never predict how a particular individual experienced the events that happened to them.
- Reporting on trauma demands special care and increased ethical sensitivity. It requires specialized interviewing skills, understanding of the law, and (at a minimum) a basic awareness about the psychological impact of trauma.
- Get the language correct. Someone is not a victim unless they describe themselves that way.
- Respect a potential interviewee’s right to say ‘no.’ Nobody should be forced to give every detail about a traumatic event unless THEY want to.
- We will take control of providing a safe space for sources to discuss their individual trauma(s). Tread carefully and do not exploit or belittle them if they open up to you. If you’ve earned their trust, keep it. The secret to good interviewing is active, non-judgmental listening.
- Don’t underestimate how your own reactions to traumatic details can influence the conversation. If you are finding the conversation challenging, acknowledge that silently to yourself, and bring your focus back to what is being said. Try to listen a little harder and and to observe facial expressions and body language. The time for a journalist to process the personal impact of an interview is after it’s complete, away from the interviewee.
- Trauma is often associated with high degrees of self-blame, guilt, and shame. For this reason, avoid language that might imply the interviewee is responsible in some way. Be careful of asking ‘why’ questions—which interrogators tend to favor. Don’t be surprised if accounts only make partial sense. Frequently survivors of trauma ‘shut down’ emotionally: Their recall may become or seem fragmented, and in some cases they may have blocked out an event entirely. Incomplete and contradictory accounts are not prima facie evidence of deception, but rather of the struggle interviewees may experience in making sense of what has happened to them.
- Journalists have a responsibility to do everything they can to avoid exposing the interviewee to further abuse and to avoid undermining an interviewee’s standing in his or her community. Be prepared for survivors to read at least portions of your story before publication, as it can lessen the impact—and possible trauma—of public exposure. (Note: After reading—and seeing evidence of your intentions—an interviewee may decide to share more of his or her story with you.) Tell the whole story. Sometimes media identify only specific incidents, focusing on the obvious climax. Reporters must understand that a failure to report wholly on a story is, in itself, a form of abuse. Learn how individuals have coped with the trauma in the longer term. Your stories and your relationships will be richer for it.
- Trauma reporting is an act for the greater good. Utilize information, data, resources, and various experiences wisely to provide you with insight and to ensure you’re reporting the truth—not how things appear at first glance. There is never a simple explanation and during your reporting you should be prepared to explore the individual complexities of each story. Speculation has no place in trauma reporting.
- A story is never just about what happened. Explore regrets and successes and how your interviewee’s life got them to this point. A person is more than just a singular event. Explore the survivor’s story with the same care, attention to detail, and respect that you would want them to show if roles were reversed.