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Journalism professor to share PTSD research with State Department

Wed, 10/02/2013

LAWRENCE — Post-traumatic stress disorder is not only a struggle for those who fight in wars, but the journalists who cover them. University of Kansas journalism professor Barbara Barnett’s work in improving understanding of the condition, as well as her involvement in efforts to bring media and the military to mutual understanding, has earned her an invitation to share her findings with U.S. State Department officials.

Barnett, associate professor of journalism and associate dean for undergraduate studies, will travel to Vienna in early October to speak about her work with officials at the U.S. Embassy. She has performed research in how post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, can affect journalists and how it is presented in the media. She’ll also share information on the Media and the Military program she has led with Tom Volek, associate professor of journalism and associate dean for graduate studies and faculty development.

“People who cover violent events will often have the same psychological effects afterwards as the people who directly take part in them,” Barnett said. “One of the things we hear from reporters is that PTSD does affect them in the way they view work and many other parts of life.”

She will speak to journalists, embassy personnel from the United Nations and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe as well as students and take part in a panel discussion.

Journalists who cover wars are not the only ones to suffer psychological stress. Crime reporters often deal with the same issues. Barnett said she’ll speak to those topics and also plans to share findings from an ongoing study she is conducting on how PTSD is portrayed in the media. Among her findings, she points out that while the topic is covered often, there is very rarely information for people who are suffering from PTSD on how to seek help. She will speak to both embassy officials and media on the topic.

The State Department invitation comes on the heels of a workshop KU’s William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications hosted in Washington, D.C., in 2012. The school held a workshop at the National Press Club to help journalists learn more about covering PTSD and how to deal with its symptoms and aftermath in their own lives.

The workshop also helped participants learn what the military and journalists have in common when it comes to PTSD. Common ground and understanding between military and the media is at the heart of the other side of Barnett’s presentation to embassy officials.

For five years Barnett and Volek have led a Media and the Military workshop that brings journalists from all over the country together to learn more about the military and writing about armed conflict. Journalists who take part in the workshop spend time at nearby Fort Leavenworth speaking with officers in the Command and General Staff College, staying in barracks, visiting KU journalism classes and paying a visit to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. The program also helps military officials better understand the often difficult job media are presented with in covering the military and war.

“I think one of the biggest lesson that comes out of this program is the same lesson we try to teach our students every day,” Barnett said. “That is the importance of telling an authentic story. Not just reporting what’s coming out of Washington, but what’s coming out of the homes and from the streets.”

The success in bringing two seemingly disparate groups together in greater understanding of each other’s respective missions played a large part in the invitation to report on the program’s success to the State Department. When students understand the complexity and inner workings of the military better they can produce better coverage, and when the military more fully understands the difficulties in journalists’ jobs they can work together better, Barnett said.



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