A Focus on Exposure: Trauma and the psychological implications for TV news camera operators
My research considered what it is like for TV news camera operators to cover stories that might be considered particularly stressful or traumatic, as well as what the psychological impact of working as a TV news camera operator might be. My reasoning for focusing on camera operators in this context was as follows:
- TV News frequently requires footage of stories relating to various forms of violence and tragedy within society.
- Some psychological research shows that viewers of TV news can experience negative psychological symptoms. But a lot of what is shown on broadcast news segments is censored, and it is camera operators who are exposed first-hand to individuals and communities in times of adversity and disaster.
- Previous research has shown that ‘journalist’ samples experience more exposure to trauma through their work than might be experienced by the general public. They also experience significant distress symptoms, such as those related to posttraumatic stress disorder. But no research had previously considered camera operators, even though there are many ways in which their day-to-day work is different to other ‘journalists’.
I wanted to know
- How many stressful or traumatic events are camera operators exposed to through their work?
- Do they experience negative psychological symptoms at a rate that would make them a group of particular interest and one in need of specialised support?
- How do their experiences compare to other TV news worker roles?
How I did the research
I conducted three research studies using a wide range of methods:
- Reviewed existing research literature
- Interviewed TV news camera operators and reporters
- Conducted an online survey of TV news camera operators and other TV news workers.
Summary of what was found
- Camera operators have the same amount of exposure to stressful stories as other news workers.
- Both camera operators and other news workers experience significant levels of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms.
- There are a number of ways in which the experiences of covering stressful stories is different for camera operators:
- They view stressful events through a lens, and this can sometimes act as a buffer between them and the event.
- There is a hierarchy within TV news organisations that can make camera operators feel they have less status and power as compared to reporters.
- Camera operators are more likely than reporters to go in to the field alone, to get closer to traumatic stimuli, and to be exposed to traumatic stimuli for longer. They are also more likely than reporters to find themselves personally injected in to traumatic scenes.
The findings of my research serve to raise the status of the psychological impact of journalistic work for TV news camera operators. Previous research in journalist samples has argued that reporters are an at-risk population and worthy of increased industry support and further research. So, the finding that camera operators and other TV news workers have the same levels of exposure to stressful events and the same levels of psychological symptoms makes camera operators a noteworthy group by association. Therefore, camera operators are equally deserving of acknowledgement in relation to the risks of their work; they also deserve equal support and research interest. However, the kind of support camera operators are most likely to benefit from is going to be different to that needed by other news workers, due to their unique experiences. Research and psychological support within news organisations should be tailored to accommodate the unique role differences inherent across the news crew.
- Presented: May, 2017
- Location: Australian Cinematographers Society, Annual Executive Meeting