Vicarious trauma in the newsroom – Landmark ruling

Debra Brodowski, National Manager of Psychological Services, comments on the landmark ruling by an Australian court which spotlights the importance of media companies providing a framework for managing vicarious trauma, a major psychosocial risk factor for the industry as a whole.

On February 22 2019, the Victorian County Court awarded a journalist from The Age Newspaper $180,000 for the psychological injury experienced during the decade she worked for the newspaper. During her decade of reporting at the newspaper she reported on 32 murders and many more traumatic cases in her main role as a court reporter. When reading through the judgement it’s hard to imagine someone not experiencing some sort of vicarious trauma, being exposed to so many traumatic and at times gruesome details of these cases.

So what are the unique psychosocial risk factors of being journalists?

Working as a journalist, especially one who covers particularly traumatic events, comes with its own set of unique psychosocial risk factors which need to be addressed. These include:

  • A high work load
  • Extremely tight dead lines
  • Potential exposure to traumatic incidents
  • Witness to, or experience of, threats of harm or homicide
  • Relationships formed with victims of the stories they are reporting on
  • The quality of their relationship with their peers and direct manager
  • Lack of screening for suitability to a role such as a crime reporter etc.

Knowing these are risks, it’s important that media organisations understand their duty of care in relation to these risks.

What is the duty of care?

Not only do we have a social and moral obligation to support the wellbeing of others, we also have a legal obligation. Under the WHS Act, we have a duty of care to identify, assess, and manage the risk of an employee from a wellbeing perspective. This means that if we see or hear someone who may be exposed to psychosocial risk, we have a responsibility to provide support.

What can media companies do to mitigate these unique psychosocial risk factors?

It is important for media companies to implement various risk mitigating services to create a buffer so the impact of these unique psychosocial risk factors don’t grip their journalists and swallow them whole. Our framework for the media organisations we work with here at the Centre for Corporate Health includes a three-tiered approach:

1. Prevention

  • Screening for job appropriateness
  • Vicarious trauma training
  • Peer support programs
  • Training for managers on leading a psychologically safe team
  • Training on resilience and recovery
  • Well checks

2. Intervention

  • Implementation of the Mental Health Intervention Framework

3. Recovery

  • Early intervention
  • Wellbeing assessments
  • Ongoing counselling
  • Psychological rehabilitation

For more information on our suite of services for mitigating psychosocial risk factors in the media industry, please contact us at or on 02 8243 1500.

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