CQU journalism researcher shares experience of trauma in crisis coverage

11 May 2022

CQUniversity journalism researcher Amantha Perera has shared his personal experience of traumatic reporting' for a global initiative to improve media coverage of trauma' conflict and tragedy.

Mr Perera' who recently completed his CQUniversity Master by Research into pandemic-related online trauma experienced by journalists' was a guest on the Dart Centre Asia Pacific's podcast 'In Ten'.

'In Ten' aims to educate journalists and journalism students on the science and psychology of trauma and the implications for news coverage' and is hosted by prominent ABC journalist Lisa Millar.

Originally from Sri Lanka' Amantha Perera is a foreign correspondent based in Melbourne' and a Project Lead for the Dart Centre.

"Most of my career has been spent as a journalist' as a writer' and most of it has been spent in south Asia'" he told the podcast.

"In the past five years or so' I've transitioned first into training journalists' and now I'm doing research into trauma and journalism as well' and I'm about to start my PhD."

Mr Perera explained that the first decade of his career covered Sri Lanka's civil war and the aftermath of the tsunami' but he only began to realise the trauma impact following the murder of his former editor.

"He was killed as he was driving to work in 2009' and by that time I had actually left working at that newspaper' but I was working as a foreign correspondent' and it was a huge story'" he explained.

"I reported on my editor's murder for about two or three years' and I realised I was getting increasingly angry – every year on the anniversary I was asked to file an update' first I was angry that he had let this happen to him' then it was at the people around him' then it was at me' I was becoming very angry that I let this happen to someone who was very close to me."

Mr Perera and host Lisa Millar discuss how anniversary coverage can be particularly triggering for journalists.

"When the anniversary comes' it is so overwhelming because there are so many emotions attached to it'" Mr Perera explained.

"The most important lesson that I learned was that I needed to take a serious look at the impact of my journalism on me as a person.

"It was this story that got me looking into that' and after I had reached out to the Dart Centre and spoken to those people working with journalists' one of the things I realised was that I needed to take a step back and process my own feelings to this person I had lost.

"Now when I do (traumatic) stories' I prepare myself' and I prepare for the fact that this could have an emotional impact on me."

Mr Perera's research with CQUniversity also looked at traumatic situations for journalists covering a crisis.

"The research explores a threat vector – online trauma' which was recognised as an occupational hazard encountered by journalists only few years back'" he said.

"However' since early 2020 due to COVID-19 imposed restrictions and conditions' the threat exposure levels' and potency have increased dramatically.

"As journalism grapples with how it adapts to post-COVID normal' there are newer dynamics at play with their own set of dangers. This project gives the chance to develop knowledge that would be of real-time value to the industry."