The Rory Peck Trust, the charity representing freelance news journalists, has teamed up with Facebook for two-part trauma and resilience pilot programme, that focusses on the treatable ‘injury’ aspects of post-traumatic stress injury rather than the tortuous ‘damage’ aspects of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We hope that the pilot will grow into a longer-term partnership with Facebook,” says Clothilde Redfern, director of the Trust. “We noticed through applications for financial assistance that there has been a growing number of requests for financial help to cover trauma therapy costs.

shutterstock_TV news crew Bangkok

“We want to support and raise awareness around trauma informed journalism, what that is exactly, and how it can improve the quality of reporting and the quality of support for journalists who regularly report from traumatic events,” she adds.

The Trust lists financial insecurity, long hours, and a lack of institutional protection as other trauma inducing elements, suggesting there are many barriers for younger reporters.

“That’s true, and I would also highlight that when they are trying to make a name for themselves, new freelancers tend to take bigger risks and expose themselves to trauma without being fully prepared,” says Redfern. “We want to support them not to do that.”

“One of the key points for the Trust has been pushing awareness that news organisations have a duty of care, and this push has not just come from the Trust. It has come from the general climate within the news organisations,” Tira Shubart, Rory Peck Trust

Most freelance jobs are in part reliant on local ‘fixers’, and they must be part of the trauma reduction experience surely?

“Absolutely. They are often your lifeline and being educated about how you manage all the people that you are exposed to when covering traumatic events will lead to better relations with your contributors and the local communities, which might be traumatised themselves. This will lead to better journalism,” Redfern says.

One big challenge is the education of people to understand the language used, and terminology mis-applied.

“There is a very specific clinical description to be being traumatised, that often isn’t recognised,” says Redfern. “People throw around the concept of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and do not use it accurately. It is a very rare disorder.

“We are trying to get people to use the term post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI), and you see an immediate difference in the connotations. PTSI is an injury that you can recover from, and then go back to work. Disorder doesn’t sound like something that can be recovered from,” she adds.

The Rory Peck Trust

The Rory Peck Trust provides practical and financial support to freelance journalists and their families, assisting in times of crisis and helping them to work more safely and professionally.

The organisation is named after Rory Peck, a highly-respected freelance cameraman who was killed in Moscow in 1993 during Russia’s October coup. The Trust was set up in his memory in 1995.

Journalism with a do no harm strategy for freelancers is progress, but what have the big new organisations done for their staff?

“Many have stepped up to the plate in giving mental health support and trauma aware journalism training to their own staff. The BBC and Thomson Reuters are probably the leaders. The BBC, for example, has adopted the (Military) TRIM Protocol (Trauma Risk Incident Management). It is not always appropriate for media staff, but it is basically to make a conversation and a check on people’s health when they return from hostile environments,” says Redfern. “It is just part of the process, a debrief.”

So, the news organisations were not going to extend staff health care to freelancers?

“That is the tricky bit because it is incredibly difficult to fund. News is not commercial, and budgets have been squeezed for the last decade,” says Redfern.

“I have been looking at this for a couple of years, and have come to know Professor Anthony Feinstein, who is famed his landmark report on the psychological risks that journalists are exposed to, and his continuing academic work as a specialised psychiatrist. I asked him who I should go to fund the trauma fund for journalists that I originally wanted to do, and he said nobody will fund it because funders view the media industry to be rich,” she adds. “They do no understand why media companies are not covering the cost for this,”

In the end, the Trust got its funding from Facebook, through Sarah Brown, head of news partnerships, Northern Europe.

Tira Shubart Rory Peck Trust crop

Tira Shubart Rory Peck Trust

“Sarah agreed with me that the trauma and resilience idea was something that was needed, so we built the programme together,” says Redfern. “It is true that many journalists are covering hostile events and are exposed to the same amount of trauma that the military is, but without the training. That is what we are trying to meet with this resilience programme.”

Brown says: “It is vital to provide this specialised trauma informed training, and the access to psychological treatment. Freelancers can stay strong and manage their mental health.”

Fully funded trauma and resilience workshops will be delivered by the Dart Centre Europe, under the auspices of Chair Angelina Fusco.

“We chose them because they are experts in this space. The aim of the project is to support 25 journalists with trauma therapy, and to train 100 journalists through the Dart Centre. Both are open to applications from anywhere globally,” says Redfern. “It depends how self-aware people are about what they need, and how easy or difficult they find it to reach out for help. It is very difficult for a freelancer to say: ‘No. Sorry. I cannot do this story now, because I need a week to decompress from the last story’.”

The Balkan War

Tira Shubart, Chair of the Rory Peck Trust, has been one of the few giants of new journalism over the past four decades, and she says the freelance community has grown significantly.

Still from In Enemy Territory (3)

In Enemy Territory won the News Feature category at the 2020 Rory Peck Awards

“I think the figures are indicative of the fact that the Trust is well known in new areas. We have always been the UK and Europe, but we are much better known now in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, and to a certain extent in South America,” she says.

“The big media organisations only started doing safety training towards the end of the Balkan War (92-95). I certainly covered quite a few conflicts up to that point, and before that war nobody ever talked about safety or flak jackets. That first training often involved some recognition of PTSD,” said Shubart. “It was a bit of a luxury, because it was something that would be recognised if you were working for a large media organisation.”

Bigger and permanent

Jump forward to the pilot and the concept PTSI, and healing journalists before returning them to the fray, and Shubart agrees with Redfern that the different ways of describing trauma are an issue.

“One of the most useful terms is ‘psychological first aid’. It is absolutely easy to understand,” she says. “We hope the pilot does bode something bigger and permanent. We have all seen in the industry that there is something to be discussed and recognised.

3 Maha Hussain Middle East Eye (1)

Maha Hussain: Winner of The Martin Adler Prize at last year’s Rory Peck Awards

“The Dart Centre has been very active in promoting the workshops, and the Trust website is now in nine languages, giving us quite a wide reach. Those languages are English, French, Spanish, Russian, Ukrainian, Farsi, Arabic, Portuguese and Swahili. The Portuguese lets us reach out to journalists in Mozambique, who are now covering yet another conflict, and Brazil,” she adds.

The increased number of languages has proved to be very important. “In some of these societies, many of which I worked, mental health issues are very much ignored, or sometimes people do not want to admit to trauma challenges. We hope this pilot can change this,” says Shubart. “One of the key points for the Trust has been pushing awareness that news organisations have a duty of care, and this push has not just come from the Trust. It has come from the general climate within the news organisations.”

Shubart points to the dangers to freelancers trapped in Gaza, Raqqah and Afghanistan currently. “They cannot get out. That’s why we have put more and more of the Trust’s resources online,” she says.

IBC Digital provides industry insight and the opportunity to engage with exhibitors in the run up to, and during, IBC2021. Register here