A Talk After Trauma

8 Feb

Image Credit: "Headache" by Nisian Hughes

It is highly likely that a person in a journalism or public relations career will encounter someone who has been through trauma, such as assault, a natural disaster, a traffic accident, or some form of severe injury. Handling such an interview can be a delicate subject. You don’t want to be awkward or disengaged, yet you don’t want to be too emotionally invested for the sake of your own health.

Several cases arise in the industry. People who have been traumatized have stories to tell. Recent examples include the family and friends of Natalee Holloway, Katrina victims, and witnesses to the shooting in Tuscon.
Many journalists or PR professionals find themselves distanced from the interviewee. Others, such as those in the field that repeatedly cover trauma, find themselves anxious, and possibly depressed, living out trauma vicariously.
Thankfully, NewsU lays down the foundation for interacting with and interviewing people who have experienced trauma.

Here is a summary of interviewing tips:

First, the journalist does not have to ignore the pain involved. They may talk to the interviewee about the natural pain that may come from remembering a traumatic event. It is likely that the interviewee will not want to be bombarded right after the incident. It is ethical for a journalist to respect that time. When an interview is scheduled, it is wise to refrain from starting with difficult questions about the trauma right off the bat.

Also, remember that great interviewing skills take great listening skills. Watch the interviewees’ body language and facial expressions in order to be a better listener and to know when to stop firing questions. It is ok to pause and resume an interview if the interviewee is crying or having a hard time emotionally. Stop recording, writing, or talking and offer the interviewee time. According to the advice from Frank Ochberg in the course, the worst mistake you can make in an interview is to talk too much.

I would recommend this course to any journalism or public relations student. While having respect and compassion for the situation may seem obvious, there are other fine points to a sensitive interview that may be forgotten in the anxiety of conducting such an interview.

An example of a talk show host who as become infamous for lacing tact in interviews is Tyra Banks.

Oprah is generally a better example of handling a trauma interview. A couple  examples are her interviews with Dr. William Petit, who lost his wife and daughters to a heinous crime in Connecticut, and Jacqueline Saburido, a car accident victim who was left disfigured. The interviews contain statements that can be hard to listen too, and it can may be difficult to imagine yourself conducting such an interview, but the course gives information that may be learned for some of a career’s toughest conversations.


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