Enhancing emotional literacy in journalism training

This research was prompted by the growing concern about the mental health of some journalists, especially those involved in conflict reporting.

Supported by an AHRC grant to BU’s Professor Barry Richards and Gavin Rees, researchers identified areas of         opportunity for and resistance to the promotion of emotional literacy amongst journalists, which could lead to more effective strategies for training.


Key research themes and findings, which have been integrated into training by the Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma, include:

–       How understandings of the principle of ‘objectivity’ were a major barrier to the acceptance of emotion as a topic for journalism training.

–       There is a lack systematic or explicit understanding of the emotional dynamics of the interview and its          possible consequences.

–       Neglect amongst journalists of how audiences might be affected emotionally by reports of distressing events or situations.

–       Journalism’s place in the wider cultural process of ’emotionalisation’ which has occurred in recent decades in a number of professional settings and in popular culture generally. This cultural shift provides an important context for understanding the pressures and opportunities for change within journalism.


The Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma is a US-based international charitable organisation concerned with training journalists to deal with witnessing and reporting on traumatic situations. Dart has international reach through its offices in the US, Australia and South Africa. It has trained journalists in many of the world’s leading news media organisations, including publishers including the New York Times, broadcasters including the BBC and news agencies including Reuters).

BU researcher Gavin Rees, who later became Director of Dart Europe, facilitated the integration of the research project outcomes within Dart’s training programmes.

From 2009 to date the research-informed training has been delivered by Gavin Rees and Stephen Jukes (Dean of the Media School) to around 200 undergraduate and postgraduate students at City University, Bournemouth, Cardiff, Huddersfield, Leeds and Roehampton. Rees has also conducted sessions in overseas universities including Bonn, Helsinki and San Diego.

Practicing journalists have also benefited from the findings at the annual UK Trauma Retreat (which in 2012 had 18 attendees, including senior journalists from BBC, C4 and Al-Jazeera); a 2-day training event for 14 Swiss local     journalists in 2011; one-day or shorter sessions with groups of journalists in Russia, Germany, Finland, Egypt, South Africa, and Kenya. Feedback forms have been used at some of these events, with consistently positive results.

The aim of the training is to develop greater emotional literacy and resilience amongst journalists involved in            reporting on conflict, disaster and other potentially traumatising situations. There are benefits from this for the        journalists themselves, who can become more aware of potential stress factors and better able to reflect on and manage the emotional impacts of their work.

Additionally the research benefits others involved in the news production process. In journalism generally there is little systematic understanding of how interviewees and other sources (victims, survivors, witnesses, relatives of victims) may be affected emotionally by their involvement. A more informed and sensitive approach to these issues by journalists could have substantial benefits for them. Audiences will also benefit from the greater emotional        literacy of journalists as more sensitively crafted reports will facilitate processing emotionally challenging narratives and images.


Research references

Richards, B. & Rees, G. (2011) The management of emotion in British journalism. Media, Culture and Society 33(6), 851-867.

Richards, B. (2010) News and the emotional public sphere. In Allan, S., ed., The Routledge Companion to News and Journalism, 301-311. London: Routledge.

Rees, G. (2007) Weathering the trauma storms. Brit. Journalism Rev. 18(2), 65-70.