Honoring brave journalists with the annual Dart Center Awards

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journalists_guide_to_firearms_ak47_glock1 (Photo credit: gnotalex)

It’s a fact easily overlooked — the news we read and hear and watch is brought to us by human beings with hearts.

Some of the stories they gather, and some of the very best in my view, are the ones we skip over because they’re dark, disturbing and deeply painful.

Journalists who gather this material often end up suffering from a condition known as “secondary trauma” which can cause insomnia, nightmares, anxiety and depression. It’s a form of PTSD, which soldiers experience after the violence and brutality of war. I experienced it myself after writing my first book about American women and guns, after steeping myself in reports and interviews of violence, suicide and homicide for months.

A female friend who returned from Haiti after reporting there for weeks began telling her Facebook friends she couldn’t sleep, night after night. I suggested her insomnia was quite likely the result of secondary trauma. Another female friend wrote a searing book about MRSA, the flesh-eating infection, and she too experienced the aftereffects of recounting terrible stories, receiving a Dart Center fellowship to deal with it.

Most journalists aren’t trained in any way to know that this even exists. They work in, or return to, newsrooms filled with colleagues who have no experience or understanding of the horrors they may have seen, smelled, heard or survived, and few bosses with training to recognize or handle it either.

The very compassion and empathy that leads journalists into this tough work can also leave them shattered by it.

The Dart Center is an American non-profit organization whose focus is helping journalists prepare for, and recover from, reporting stories of this nature. I admire them and the men and women who do this work.

A panel discussion is being held tonight from 6 to 8pm at the Columbia School of Journalism in New York City honoring this year’s winners.

From the Dart Center website:

The New York Times received the Dart Award for “Punched Out: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer.” (John Branch, reporter; Marcus Yam, photographer; Shayla Harris, videojournalist; Josh Williams, multimedia producer.) This searing three-part investigative series tells the story of Derek Boogaard, one of the N.H.L.’s most feared “enforcers,” who died with massive brain injuries at age 28. The series reveals the consequences – physical, psychological and social – of the adulation of violence surrounding the sport.

Judges called “Punched Out: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer” a “groundbreaking” and “exemplary piece of accountability journalism.” They praised Branch for his “masterful storytelling” and “tender objectivity,” and for focusing on “human beings, science and anguish instead of thrill, agony and defeat.” They commended the series for “taking on the sports page” and “drawing attention to sanctioned violence of fans.” Judges also recognized the far-reaching, and wide-ranging impact of the series that has made it nearly impossible for those most vested in hockey to turn a blind eye to its cruel reality and disastrous impact.

WNYC received the Dart Award for “Living 9/11,” which was presented by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange (Marianne McCune, reporter and producer; Emily Botein, producer; Karen Frillman, editor; Fred Mogul and Beth Fertig, reporters; Eric Leinung, Jillian Suarez, Erin Reeg, Norhan Basuni, Radio Rookies; Courtney Stein, Sanda Htyte, Radio Rookies producers; Kaari Pitkin, Radio Rookies senior producer; Chris Bannon, executive producer; Andy Lanset, original 9/11 recordings; John Ellis, composer; Paul Schneider and Jim Briggs III, mix engineers.) This hour-long documentary guides listeners through the stories of people who were deeply affected by the September 11, 2001 attacks and who are still struggling to make sense of the events.  The documentary is built around a diverse range of viewpoints, capturing visceral and immediate emotional reactions to the attacks while also illuminating universal truths about 9/11’s lasting impact.

Judges called “Living 9/11” “insightful,” “hard-hitting” and “deeply sensitive,” going far beyond more conventional anniversary programs in its integration of history, science and narrative.

Painful Memories? Take This Drug

Overview Memory
Image via Wikipedia

Would life be better if we could erase our most painful memories?

I can think of many I’d be — literally — happier without: two horrible Christmas Eves; the night my ex-husband walked out for good; a few really terrifying and unsuccessful job interviews.

We’ve all got some, scarred for life and sometimes truly hampered by their lingering effects.

It may become possible, says one American scientist, who may have found a way to do it.

Reports Bloomberg BusinessWeek:

The experiment proved that [certain] proteins are essential to building the brain circuitry that forms a memory, and to recalling the memory later. “It’s a huge step forward,” says Joseph E. LeDoux, a professor at New York University and an authority on memory and emotions.

Huganir and Clem are now experimenting with a drug that removes AMPARs and could prevent memories from forming in the first place. They hope to publish the results next year, and Huganir says that in as little as a decade the research could lead to drugs that help people forget painful experiences. Blocking AMPARs won’t erase the entire memory of an event, says Huganir, but it would eliminate the strong emotions attached to it. That could be a game-changer for the nearly 8 million American adults with post-traumatic stress disorder. Huganir says he regularly gets e-mails from PTSD sufferers asking to be part of human drug trials if and when he holds them. His research may also lead to drugs that aid memory retention by stimulating AMPARs, a potential boon for test takers and Alzheimer’s patients.

Would we all be better off without our sad or traumatic memories?

What if we did get rid of them?

How would we behave differently?

From IEDs to CVs — The Challenge of Finding Work After War

A US soldier arrests a mock suspect wearing ar...
Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

If there’s any job tougher than being a soldier, it can be finding a civilian employer who truly understands the skills a soldier brings.

From the New York Post:

The unemployment rate for returning veterans is around two percentage points above the national average.

Given how high that average is to begin with, “That’s pretty catastrophic,” says Tarantino, who’s now a legislative associate for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, lobbying on veterans’ behalf in DC.

Veterans and their advocates say a number of barriers can stand in the way for vets seeking jobs, as well as those returning to work after serving in a war zone. They include long gaps in private-sector work histories, the lack of a network, difficulty adjusting to a work environment after the extremes of combat and a corporate world that often fails to appreciate the crossover value of the considerable skills, both hard and soft, that soldiers acquire.

Throw in a disability, either physical or an invisible one like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and things get harder still. And the cruel irony is, finding work is often a crucial step toward successfully readjusting to civilian life after a deployment.

Young veterans face the most difficulty, reports the Los Angeles Times:

Young combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have another challenge waiting for them when they return home: steep unemployment.

More than 1 in 5 can’t find work, according to data released Friday by the Labor Department.

The unemployment rate last year for veterans ages 18 to 24 reached 21.1%, compared to 16.6% for that age group as a whole.

In addition to the recession, veterans groups attribute the high jobless rate to a lack of education, job experience and job training in the years before entering the service. Also, many return home with health and mental health problems that make it difficult to find work.

“When a person is deployed, it takes them out of their natural environment and they’re not out there able to compete with the general public for jobs,” said Joseph Sharpe, director of the economic division of the American Legion. “And when they return, they’re not on an even playing field.”

One video game developer is putting its money where its mouth is, donating $1 million to help veterans find work, reports the Washington Post:

The military’s predominantly male makeup falls squarely into Activision Blizzard’s preferred 18- to 35-year-old male demographic. The military has started using video games to train recruits, and service members often spend their down time with game consoles in hand. Activision Blizzard regularly donates video games and gaming consoles to the military through the USO, and the donations have helped the company identify and hire veterans who are interested in the gaming industry.

The foundation will make its first donation of $125,000 to the Paralyzed Veterans of America to help open a vocational rehabilitation center, the company said.

Yet some veterans are doing just fine, reports Fortune, thanks to a special mentoring program:

News Corp. (NWSA) is one of 17 major companies and universities — from Campbell Soup (CPB, Fortune 500), General Electric (GE, Fortune 500), Home Depot (HD, Fortune 500), IBM (IBM, Fortune 500), Procter & Gamble (PG, Fortune 500), Verizon (VZ, Fortune 500), and the University of Texas to, just recently, Bloomberg, Deloitte, and Harvard — that has signed on to provide mentors to veterans through American Corporate Partners since it launched in 2008. Currently ACP has more than 500 mentors matched up with veterans. There are another 800 veterans on a waiting list hoping to be assigned executive role models.

The non-profit is the brainchild of a former investment banker named Sid Goodfriend, who spent 25 years working first for Merrill Lynch and then Credit Suisse (CS). Goodfriend, 50, has no military background himself. Prior to forming ACP, he didn’t even have any close friends who had served in the armed forces. But in the years since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he says he had developed a really deep sense of appreciation for how fortunate he’s been in life and an admiration for the soldiers that serve to keep him and his family safe. “I owe so much of what I have to these young people who decide to put country first and their welfare second in a lot of cases,” he says.

By 2007, the financially well-off Goodfriend decided that he wanted to leave Wall Street and spend his time giving back to veterans who have served since 9/11. The question was how? As a board member of a New York City non-profit called Student Sponsor Partners, which matches at-risk students in New York’s public school system with sponsors who pay for them to attend a private school and take a role in their education, he had seen firsthand the power of mentoring. And he knew how important mentors had been to him in his own career at Merrill. He figured veterans trying to break into business could use some expert guidance.

Fortune’s March 22 cover story features several veterans now being recruited by major corporations.