Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Quick Studies

journalist at desk crop 2

(Photo: KieferPix/Shutterstock)

Journalists Can Get PTSD Without Leaving Their Desks

• August 15, 2014 • 6:14 AM

(Photo: KieferPix/Shutterstock)

Dealing with violent content takes a heavy toll on some reporters.

Everyone who has been to journalism school knows this phrase: “If it bleeds, it leads.” It’s pretty self-explanatory, and it’s why front pages and TV screens are filled with violence and gore.

“The unremitting flow of this material coupled with the longevity of certain conflicts means that some journalists have frequent and prolonged exposure to deeply disturbing images.”

Granted, the concept is taught to budding reporters in sort of a derisive way. But once they hit real-world newsrooms and have bosses who are publishers or producers, it becomes clear (to some of them, at least) that the stories they need to push forth are the rubberneckers, the ones that get the eyeballs and the ratings—and that means lots of bloody drama.

There’s plenty of analysis and hand-wringing about what this means for society—that audiences demand violence and that the media supplies it—but no one has ever really looked at what it does to journalists. So psychiatrists at the University of Toronto decided to study whether reporters’ mental health suffers because of their exposure to graphic, uncensored videos and images.

If what makes it onto mainstream media channels seems vicious, then what reporters see is even more intense. User-generated content, especially—which the researchers define as photos and videos that members of the public send to news organizations—is often extremely violent. Journalists often watch this raw footage to figure out which parts of it are suitable to broadcast.

As the study (published last week in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine) says: “The unremitting flow of this material coupled with the longevity of certain conflicts means that some journalists have frequent and prolonged exposure to deeply disturbing images.”

Researchers worked with three international news organizations—they didn’t specify which ones—to gather a list of 116 journalists who deal with violent content. They sent those journalists an online survey that asked questions about their work and mental health; 80 percent responded. After analyzing the answers to their questionnaire, the researchers determined that the more frequently a journalist watches violent content, the more likely that journalist is to have anxiety, depression, PTSD, or alcoholism.

Related research, it’s worth noting, has implied that the more people—especially children—saw of the TV coverage of the 9/11 attacks, the more at risk they were for having trauma. Additionally, those who cover wars are nearly as vulnerable to PTSD as those who fight in them.

Anthony Feinstein, a neuropsychiatrist with a particular interest in combat correspondents, says that this new study was motivated by his “concerns that sitting all day in front of multiple TV monitors watching news, in real time, of horrendous violence, could prove emotionally upsetting for some.”

He wasn’t surprised by his study’s results but makes sure to emphasize that the majority of journalists are not distressed. “It is a very small number who develop depressive and PTSD symptoms from this kind of work,” he says. “The challenge for news organizations is to detect who the few journalists are and offer assistance.”


Rosie Spinks contributed reporting. 

Avital Andrews
Avital Andrews writes about thought leaders, environmental issues, food, and travel. She also reports for Sierra, the Los Angeles Times, and the Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @avitalb.

More From Avital Andrews

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

November 26 • 2:00 PM

Rich Kids Are More Likely to Be Working for Dad

Nepotism is alive and well, especially for the well-off.


November 26 • 12:00 PM

How Do You Make a Living, Taxidermist?

Taxidermist Katie Innamorato talks to Noah Davis about learning her craft, seeing it become trendy, and the going-rate for a “Moss Fox.”


November 26 • 10:28 AM

Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals’ actions pile up quickly.


November 26 • 10:13 AM

Honeybees Touring America


November 26 • 10:00 AM

Understanding Money

In How to Speak Money, John Lanchester explains how the monied people talk about their mountains of cash.


November 26 • 8:00 AM

The Exponential Benefits of Eating Less

Eating less food—whole food and junk food, meat and plants, organic and conventional, GMO and non-GMO—would do a lot more than just better our personal health.


November 26 • 6:00 AM

The Incorruptible Bodies of Saints

Their figures were helped along by embalming, but, somehow, everyone forgot that part.


November 26 • 4:00 AM

The Geography of Real Estate Markets Is Shifting Under Our Feet

Policies aimed at unleashing supply in order to make housing more affordable are relying on outdated models.



November 25 • 4:00 PM

Is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Doing Enough to Monitor Wall Street?

Bank President William Dudley says supervision is stronger than ever, but Democratic senators are unconvinced: “You need to fix it, Mr. Dudley, or we need to get someone who will.”


November 25 • 3:30 PM

Cultural Activities Help Seniors Retain Health Literacy

New research finds a link between the ability to process health-related information and regular attendance at movies, plays, and concerts.


November 25 • 12:00 PM

Why Did Doctors Stop Giving Women Orgasms?

You can thank the rise of the vibrator for that, according to technology historian Rachel Maines.


November 25 • 10:08 AM

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.


November 25 • 10:00 AM

If It’s Yellow, Seriously, Let It Mellow

If you actually care about water and the future of the species, you’ll think twice about flushing.


November 25 • 8:00 AM

Sometimes You Should Just Say No to Surgery

The introduction of national thyroid cancer screening in South Korea led to a 15-fold increase in diagnoses and a corresponding explosion of operations—but no difference in mortality rates. This is a prime example of over-diagnosis that’s contributing to bloated health care costs.



November 25 • 6:00 AM

The Long War Between Highbrow and Lowbrow

Despise The Avengers? Loathe the snobs who despise The Avengers? You’re not the first.


November 25 • 4:00 AM

Are Women More Open to Sex Than They Admit?

New research questions the conventional wisdom that men overestimate women’s level of sexual interest in them.


November 25 • 2:00 AM

The Geography of Innovation, or, Why Almost All Japanese People Hate Root Beer

Innovation is not a product of population density, but of something else entirely.


November 24 • 4:00 PM

Federal Reserve Announces Sweeping Review of Its Big Bank Oversight

The Federal Reserve Board wants to look at whether the views of examiners are being heard by higher-ups.



November 24 • 2:00 PM

That Catcalling Video Is a Reminder of Why Research Methods Are So Important

If your methods aren’t sound then neither are your findings.


November 24 • 12:00 PM

Yes, Republicans Can Still Win the White House

If the economy in 2016 is where it was in 2012 or better, Democrats will likely retain the White House. If not, well….


November 24 • 11:36 AM

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it’s relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.


November 24 • 10:00 AM

Why Are Patients Drawn to Certain Doctors?

We look for an emotional fit between our physicians and ourselves—and right now, that’s the best we can do.


Follow us


Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals' actions pile up quickly.

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it's relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.