The Dart-Center for Journalism and Trauma

a global resource for journalists who cover violence

The Dart Center is a global network of journalists, journalism educators and health professionals dedicated to improving media coverage of trauma, conflict and tragedy. The Center also addresses the consequences of such coverage for those working in journalism. (About).

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History: The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma was founded at the University of Washington in 1999. It continues a mission begun nearly a decade earlier.

In 1991 journalism faculty at Michigan State University established a program to assist journalism students in reporting on victims of violence with sensitivity, dignity and respect, collaborating with the Michigan Victim Alliance and Frank Ochberg, M.D., a psychiatrist and pioneer in the treatment of traumatic stress.

That MSU program, the first of its kind, was funded by the Dart Foundation of nearby Mason, Mich. In 1994 the Dart Foundation established the annual Dart Award for Excellence in Reporting on Victims of Violence, at that time administered by MSU. The Dart Foundation also began assisting other innovative programs on victims and the media by journalism faculty in Oklahoma, Indiana, and notably the University of Washington, where journalism professor Roger Simpson developed curricula on covering sexual assault, domestic violence and other violent events for newsroom ethics classes. The Foundation also encouraged collaboration between mental health professionals and news organizations covering the Columbine, Colo., school shootings and other events.

In 1999, the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma was established at the University of Washington Department of Communications as an interdisciplinary national clearing house to nurture and encourage these innovations. Under founding executive director Simpson and with continuing support from Dart Foundation, the Center assumed responsiblity for the annual Dart Awards and a rapidly-expanding portfolio of projects linking working journalists, mental health professionals, researchers and journalism teachers. These programs combined two distinct but related goals: educating journalists to report effectively, knowledgeably and ethically on victims of violence and tragedy; and encouraging awareness of the psychological impact of such reporting on journalists themselves.

The Center also established an Executive Committee comprised of leading journalists, clinicians and researchers to provide policy guidance and support. Ochberg served as the Executive Committee’s founding chair and is lifetime chair emeritus. Joe Hight, managing editor of the Dart Award-winning Oklahoman, was elected the first Executive Committee president and holds that office through November 2007.

Among the first projects initiated by the Dart Center was an annual fellowship program, bringing a small group of midcareer journalists together for a week of seminars and discussions on applying knowledge of emotional trauma to improving coverage of violent events. As of June 2007, 60 journalists — from 17 states and seven nations — have been named Dart Center Ochberg Fellows. Past Fellows along with Dart Award winners comprise the Dart Society, an independent nonprofit organization which sponsors a range of educational and public-service programs.

The attacks of September 11, 2001, led the Dart Center to establish Dart Center Ground Zero, a six-month education and support program for New York journalists. The Center also began a series of publications, notably “Tragedies and Journalists” (2002), a guidebook by Joe Hight and Frank Smyth, Washington representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists. With publication support from Hearst Newspapers, over 20,000 copies of Tragedies and Journalists are now in use in newsrooms and universities.

Beginning in 2001 the Center expanded its efforts internationally. Today the Dart Center operates Dart Centre in Europe, based in London, organizing programs for journalists across the continent under the leadership of psychotherapist and former BBC journalist Mark Brayne; and Dart Centre Australasia, by psychologist Cait McMahon, which runs training and support programs for journalists in Australia, Indonesia, New Zealand and elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region. The Dart Center has conducted conferences, educational programs and missions in 25 nations.

From the beginning the Dart Center has also encouraged and led research on the psychological impact of reporting traumatic events. Between 1999 and 2002, Simpson together with psychologist Elana Newman and other colleagues conducted the first two studies published of the mental health of reporters and photographers in U.S. newsrooms. In 2004 the Dart Center established an ongoing research node directed by Newman at the University of Tulsa Department of Psychology, involving graduate researchers in a variety of ongoing projects, and the Center has supported and encouraged pioneering research into the mental health of combat reporters.

In 2006, Bruce Shapiro succeeded Roger Simpson as executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. Through generous ongoing support from the Dart Foundation, the Center has been able to respond to exceptional events challenging journalism — September 11, the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, the Indonesian tsunami, among others — while expanding a core commitment to training and support for all news professionals encountering violence and tragedy in the routine practice of their craft.  (History).

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