Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2009


College of Arts and Media


Department of Communication


Journalists are exposed to traumatic situations every day. Some studies have been done on the lasting effects of the trauma caused by large scale events, such as 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina, but few studies have been conducted on the effects of everyday trauma, such as murder or any other violent crime. Therefore, little is done from a newsroom management standpoint to help address any psychological needs journalists may have following the coverage of a traumatic event. This study examines the Amish school shooting in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, on October 2, 2006 and the effect it had on employees in the WGAL-TV newsroom. In that shooting, five little girls were killed and another five were wounded. WGAL is the NBC affiliate for the market and is the only station in the market to be based in Lancaster County, where the shooting happened. Because of that, WGAL was first on the air with the story and was the first media outlet on the scene to begin coverage, arriving just moments after emergency personnel. WGAL is known in the broadcast news industry and in the community for its skilled ability to cover breaking news well. The coverage of the Amish school shooting was no different, except that it seemed to impact employees differently from the coverage of most stories. Newsroom employees participated in the study by responding to a questionnaire, describing their feelings during the coverage and following the coverage. They also were asked to discuss how they felt their emotional needs during the coverage and afterward were v addressed by managers in the newsroom. For the most part, employees felt managers were sensitive to the fact that employees might be struggling emotionally with the story. However, many made suggestions about how managers, both in the WGAL newsroom and in newsrooms around the country, could better address the emotional needs of newsroom employees during coverage of a traumatic event. This study focuses primarily on Acute Stress Disorder, as distinct from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (a disorder which is usually associated with exposure to a long-term stressful situation such as a war, and the symptoms of which tend to develop over a relatively longer period of time than those of ASD), mainly because of the length of time employees indicated their feelings lasted. Again, very little study has been done on Acute Stress Disorder in journalists. Continued exposure to one traumatic story, or a series of traumatic stories can lead to Acute Stress Disorder and it’s important for newsroom managers to be able to recognize the warning signs and be able to help the employees address the problem.