Q: "An Australian court recently ruled that a newspaper was responsible for a reporter's psychological injury due to covering traumatic events. Should U.S. newspapers also be legally responsible for the mental health of their journalists?"
A: U.S. newspapers should be legally responsible for their journalists' mental health, as all news organizations around the world should. Journalists bear witness to some of the most horrific and violent events in history because of the importance of reporting clear accurate information and telling the human interest stories that need to be told. As storytellers and researchers, journalists should know that just being exposed to trauma can have lifelong repercussions.
An unnamed Australian photojournalist covered the Bali Bombing terrorist attack in Indonesia that killed 202 people, which triggered her post traumatic stress disorder as reported by the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. She was fired after taking a two-year sick leave. According to the photojournalist's lawyer Tim Tobin, the newspaper ignored her assistance request to pay for counseling, didn't respond after a colleague who worked on the same assignment committed suicide and didn't have any peer-support systems in place.
Mental health has slowly become more prominent in American culture, but preventive measures like support systems should already be in place. One in five Americans already have a mental health condition according to the 2018 study by Mental Health America, a non-profit dedicated to mental health conditions in the U.S., and 56 percent of those adults did not receive treatment.
With mental illness already being that common, any profession that knowingly sends its employees into dangerous situations that could impact their mental health without any support systems in place is failing its employees. The destructive "suck it up and drink it oft" attitude the industry continues to use shows that the journalists' well-being is not a priority to the organizations in question and alienates journalists who already struggle with mental illness.
With school shootings and national emergencies around every corner, it's impossible to ask journalists not respond to the chaos they cover. News organizations cannot expect high-quality work from journalists they have done nothing to support, and who continue to be haunted by the stories they've told.
Windsor Burkland, 21 senior, State University of New York Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, N.Y.