Putting community trauma into context

“Trauma is everywhere, even if the communities we serve don’t always use the t-word to describe their experiences.”

In his pep talk during our first team meeting of the year, my editor told us that, amid all the hopes and likely chaos of the 2020 election cycle, “people are depending on us.” The idea resonated with me so much I wrote it on a bright yellow Post-It note and stuck it on my computer as a reminder for the challenging days that would come.

In 2020, those days haven’t stopped. By March, coronavirus was slowly overtaking communities and hospitals and upending our lives, personally, professionally, and financially. By May, George Floyd’s cries of “I can’t breathe” while suffocating under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer were heard around the world; the chaos of unrest overran cities for days. By August, the West Coast was burning from wildfires and the South was getting pummeled by hurricanes. By October, election fatigue was near-universal, and November brought the stress of waiting on election results. By December, we’d lost 281,000 people and counting to COVID-19, many of them mourned only at a distance.

It’ll be years before we’re fully able to process how 2020 has forever changed our lives. In 2021, I predict newsrooms will have to bolster their trauma-informed storytelling to help communities understand how they survived this devastating year. Newsrooms will have to put people’s trauma into context so their communities can acknowledge what they’ve endured and begin to heal.

Trauma-informed reporting is often front and center in stories about survivors of sexual assault, mass shootings, or other major crimes. But in 2021, newsrooms will have to understand that trauma goes well beyond that harrowing subject matter. They will have to build a better foundation of helping readers, viewers, listeners, and online visitors understand what the depths of community trauma looks like on an everyday basis.

Newsrooms have to take a step back and reexamine what they understand trauma to be. Trauma is everywhere, even if the communities we serve don’t always use the t-word to describe their experiences.

Trauma takes many forms: collective grieving for victims of the pandemic; health professionals experiencing chronic stress; communities of color bearing the pains of the impacts of systemic and institutionalized racism in their lives; children’s routines being upended with online learning and little access to their teachers and friends; job and wage losses forcing people to make tough decisions to survive; the pangs of fear when rent cannot be paid; the devastation of a small business owner closing their storefront; videos and pictures of grocery stores wiped out of toilet paper and other necessities; and upticks in crime as pent up emotions, economic desperation, and more come full circle.

Newsrooms must keep the core of these traumas in mind when considering how they interact with community members and how stories are framed, presented, and shared in real-time. With newsrooms still reckoning with how they’ve perpetuated harmful narratives about the communities they report for, marginalized people whose traumas are often forgotten must be ethically centered but never exploited. It will also be important for newsrooms to prevent retraumatizing the people whose stories they’re trying to tell.

While the media industry has been pummeled by layoffs, furloughs, and buyouts, newsrooms can find creative ways to prioritize trauma-informed storytelling. They can seek help from resources like the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. They can reach out to local therapists, mental health practitioners, community colleges, and universities to provide virtual seminars on how to consider trauma when approaching people. They can also engage with community advocates and activists in their area on ways the newsroom can offer better coverage with trauma put into context. Journalism educators can collaborate with trauma experts on campus to find ways to make trauma-informed reporting part of the curriculum.

In addition, newsrooms must prioritize their own employees’ mental health and helping them understand the effects of secondhand trauma from covering the pandemic era news cycle. Encouraging time off, reminding workers of available counseling resources, and making space for people to process what they’re going through will be critical for maintaining the mental wellbeing of newsrooms.

After all, people are depending on us.

Marissa Evans is the social issues reporter for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis.

In his pep talk during our first team meeting of the year, my editor told us that, amid all the hopes and likely chaos of the 2020 election cycle, “people are depending on us.” The idea resonated with me so much I wrote it on a bright yellow Post-It note and stuck it on my computer as a reminder for the challenging days that would come.

In 2020, those days haven’t stopped. By March, coronavirus was slowly overtaking communities and hospitals and upending our lives, personally, professionally, and financially. By May, George Floyd’s cries of “I can’t breathe” while suffocating under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer were heard around the world; the chaos of unrest overran cities for days. By August, the West Coast was burning from wildfires and the South was getting pummeled by hurricanes. By October, election fatigue was near-universal, and November brought the stress of waiting on election results. By December, we’d lost 281,000 people and counting to COVID-19, many of them mourned only at a distance.

It’ll be years before we’re fully able to process how 2020 has forever changed our lives. In 2021, I predict newsrooms will have to bolster their trauma-informed storytelling to help communities understand how they survived this devastating year. Newsrooms will have to put people’s trauma into context so their communities can acknowledge what they’ve endured and begin to heal.

Trauma-informed reporting is often front and center in stories about survivors of sexual assault, mass shootings, or other major crimes. But in 2021, newsrooms will have to understand that trauma goes well beyond that harrowing subject matter. They will have to build a better foundation of helping readers, viewers, listeners, and online visitors understand what the depths of community trauma looks like on an everyday basis.

Newsrooms have to take a step back and reexamine what they understand trauma to be. Trauma is everywhere, even if the communities we serve don’t always use the t-word to describe their experiences.

Trauma takes many forms: collective grieving for victims of the pandemic; health professionals experiencing chronic stress; communities of color bearing the pains of the impacts of systemic and institutionalized racism in their lives; children’s routines being upended with online learning and little access to their teachers and friends; job and wage losses forcing people to make tough decisions to survive; the pangs of fear when rent cannot be paid; the devastation of a small business owner closing their storefront; videos and pictures of grocery stores wiped out of toilet paper and other necessities; and upticks in crime as pent up emotions, economic desperation, and more come full circle.

Newsrooms must keep the core of these traumas in mind when considering how they interact with community members and how stories are framed, presented, and shared in real-time. With newsrooms still reckoning with how they’ve perpetuated harmful narratives about the communities they report for, marginalized people whose traumas are often forgotten must be ethically centered but never exploited. It will also be important for newsrooms to prevent retraumatizing the people whose stories they’re trying to tell.

While the media industry has been pummeled by layoffs, furloughs, and buyouts, newsrooms can find creative ways to prioritize trauma-informed storytelling. They can seek help from resources like the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. They can reach out to local therapists, mental health practitioners, community colleges, and universities to provide virtual seminars on how to consider trauma when approaching people. They can also engage with community advocates and activists in their area on ways the newsroom can offer better coverage with trauma put into context. Journalism educators can collaborate with trauma experts on campus to find ways to make trauma-informed reporting part of the curriculum.

In addition, newsrooms must prioritize their own employees’ mental health and helping them understand the effects of secondhand trauma from covering the pandemic era news cycle. Encouraging time off, reminding workers of available counseling resources, and making space for people to process what they’re going through will be critical for maintaining the mental wellbeing of newsrooms.

After all, people are depending on us.

Marissa Evans is the social issues reporter for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis.

Mandy Jenkins   You build trust by helping your readers

Mike Ananny   Toward better tech journalism

Ernie Smith   Entrepreneurship on rails

Marcus Mabry   News orgs adapt to a post-Trump world (with Trump still in it)

Parker Molloy   The press will risk elevating a Shadow President Trump

Samantha Ragland   The year of journalists taking initiative

Mariano Blejman   It’s time to challenge autocompleted journalism

Errin Haines   Let’s normalize women’s leadership

Moreno Cruz Osório   In Brazil, a push for pluralism

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   The download, podcasting’s metric king, gets dethroned

Tamar Charney   Public radio has a midlife crisis

Aaron Foley   Diversity gains haven’t shown up in local news

Natalie Meade   Journalism enters rehab

Marie Shanahan   Journalism schools stop perpetuating the status quo

Gonzalo del Peon   Collaborations expand from newsrooms to the business side

Bill Adair   The future of fact-checking is all about structured data

John Garrett   A surprisingly good year

Rick Berke   Virtual events are here to stay

Sam Ford   We’ll find better ways to archive our work

Nabiha Syed   Newsrooms quit their toxic relationships

Nikki Usher   Don’t expect an antitrust dividend for the media

Janet Haven and Sam Hinds   Is this an AI newsroom?

Jim Friedlich   A newspaper renaissance reached by stopping the presses

Brandy Zadrozny   Misinformation fatigue sets in

Danielle C. Belton   A decimated media rededicates itself to truth

Hadjar Benmiloud   Get representative, or die trying

Tshepo Tshabalala   Go niche

Patrick Butler   Covid-19 reporting has prepared us for cross-border collaboration

Jennifer Brandel   A sneak peak at power mapping, 2073’s top innovation

Matt DeRienzo   Citizen truth brigades steer us back toward reality

Sara M. Watson   Return of the RSS reader

Cory Haik   Be essential

Julia B. Chan and Kim Bui   Millennials are ready to run things

An Xiao Mina   2020 isn’t a black swan — it’s a yellow canary

Masuma Ahuja   We’ll remember how interconnected our world is

Andrew Donohue   The rise of the democracy beat

Ashton Lattimore   Remote work helps level the playing field in an insular industry

Zainab Khan   From understanding to feeling

Jody Brannon   People won’t renew

Cindy Royal   J-school grads maintain their optimism and adaptability

Bo Hee Kim   Newsrooms create an intentional and collaborative culture

Sarah Stonbely   Videoconferencing brings more geographic diversity

Sonali Prasad   Making disaster journalism that cuts through the noise

Tanya Cordrey   Declining trust forces publishers to claim (or disclaim) values

Burt Herman   Journalists build post-Facebook digital communities

Rodney Gibbs   Zooming beyond talking heads

Francesca Tripodi   Don’t expect breaking up Google and Facebook to solve our information woes

Jonas Kaiser   Toward a wehrhafte journalism

Meredith D. Clark   The year journalism starts paying reparations

Joanne McNeil   Newsrooms push back against Ivy League cronyism

Kristen Muller   Engaged journalism scales

Alfred Hermida and Oscar Westlund   The virus ups data journalism’s game

Beena Raghavendran   Journalism gets fused with art

Heidi Tworek   A year of news mocktails

Mike Caulfield   2021’s misinformation will look a lot like 2020’s (and 2019’s, and…)

Rachel Glickhouse   Journalists will be kinder to each other — and to themselves

Candis Callison   Calling it a crisis isn’t enough (if it ever was)

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   Stop pretending publishers are a united front

Catalina Albeanu   Publish less, listen more

Imaeyen Ibanga   Journalism gets unmasked

Marissa Evans   Putting community trauma into context

Celeste Headlee   The rise of radical newsroom transparency

Ariane Bernard   Going solo is still only a path for the few

Megan McCarthy   Readers embrace a low-information diet

Rachel Schallom   The rise of nonprofit journalism continues

David Skok   A pandemic-prompted wave of consolidation

Mark S. Luckie   Newsrooms and streaming services get cozy

M. Scott Havens   Traditional pay TV will embrace the disruption

Logan Jaffe   History as a reporting tool

María Sánchez Díez   Traffic will plummet — and it’ll be ok

Ray Soto   The news gets spatial

Francesco Zaffarano   The year we ask the audience what it needs

Mark Stenberg   The rise of the journalist-influencer

Rishad Patel   From direct-to-consumer to direct-to-believers

Joni Deutsch   Local arts and music make journalism more joyous

Kevin D. Grant   Parachute journalism goes away for good

Charo Henríquez   A new path to leadership

Garance Franke-Ruta   Rebundling content, rebuilding connections

james Wahutu   Journalists still wrongly think the U.S. is different

Hossein Derakhshan   Mass personalization of truth

Jeremy Gilbert   Human-centered journalism

Delia Cai   Subscriptions start working for the middle

Nisha Chittal   The year we stop pivoting

Kerri Hoffman   Protecting podcasting’s open ecosystem

L. Gordon Crovitz   Common law will finally apply to the Internet

Ståle Grut   Network analysis enters the journalism toolbox

Colleen Shalby   The definition of good journalism shifts

Ben Werdmuller   The web blooms again

Shaydanay Urbani and Nancy Watzman   Local collaboration is key to slowing misinformation

Whitney Phillips   Facts are an insufficient response to falsehoods

Ben Collins   We need to learn how to talk to (and about) accidental conspiracists

Sumi Aggarwal   News literacy programs aren’t child’s play

Cherian George   Enter the lamb warriors

Talmon Joseph Smith   The media rejects deficit hawkery

Joshua Darr   Legislatures will tackle the local news crisis

Jean Friedman-Rudovsky and Cassie Haynes   A shift from conversation to action

Jer Thorp   Fewer pixels, more cardboard

Raney Aronson-Rath   To get past information divides, we need to understand them first

Benjamin Toff   Beltway reporting gets normal again, for better and for worse

Don Day   Business first, journalism second

Jessica Clark   News becomes plural

Tim Carmody   Spotify will make big waves in video

Amara Aguilar   Journalism schools emphasize listening

Nicholas Jackson   Blogging is back, but better

José Zamora   Walking the talk on diversity

Alicia Bell and Simon Galperin   Media reparations now

Gabe Schneider   Another year of empty promises on diversity

Ariel Zirulnick   Local newsrooms question their paywalls

David Chavern   Local video finally gets momentum

Pablo Boczkowski   Audiences have revolted. Will newsrooms adapt?

Renée Kaplan   Falling in love with your subscription

Doris Truong   Indigenous issues get long-overdue mainstream coverage

Michael W. Wagner   Fractured democracy, fractured journalism

Astead W. Herndon   The Trump-sized window of the media caring about race closes again

Kawandeep Virdee   Goodbye, doomscroll

Brian Moritz   The year sports journalism changes for good

John Ketchum   More journalists of color become newsroom founders

Linda Solomon Wood   Canada steps up for journalism

Sarah Marshall   The year audiences need extra cheer

Robert Hernandez   Data and shame

Julia Angwin   Show your (computational) work

Alyssa Zeisler   Holistic medicine for journalism

Anthony Nadler   Journalism struggles to find a new model of legitimacy

Edward Roussel   Tech companies get aggressive in local

Taylor Lorenz   Journalists will learn influencing isn’t easy

Stefanie Murray and Anthony Advincula   Expect to see more translations and non-English content

Nonny de la Pena   News reaches the third dimension

Anna Nirmala   Local news orgs grasp the urgency of community roots

Sue Cross   A global consensus around the kind of news we need to save

Annie Rudd   Newsrooms grow less comfortable with the “view from above”

Jacqué Palmer   The rise of the plain-text email newsletter

Christoph Mergerson   Black Americans will demand more from journalism

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting dodged a bullet in 2020, but 2021 will be harder

Jesse Holcomb   Genre erosion in nonprofit journalism

Ryan Kellett   The bundle gets bundled

Tauhid Chappell and Mike Rispoli   Defund the crime beat

Matt Skibinski   Misinformation won’t stop unless we stop it

Victor Pickard   The commercial era for local journalism is over

Laura E. Davis   The focus turns to newsroom leaders for lasting change

Zizi Papacharissi   The year we rebuild the infrastructure of truth

John Saroff   Covid sparks the growth of independent local news sites

Kate Myers   My son will join every Zoom call in our industry

Chase Davis   The year we look beyond The Story

Nico Gendron   Ask your readers to help build your products

Andrew Ramsammy   Stop being polite and start getting real

Steve Henn   Has independent podcasting peaked?

C.W. Anderson   Journalism changed under Trump — will it keep changing under Biden?

Cory Bergman   The year after a thousand earthquakes

Basile Simon   Graphics, unite

John Davidow   Reflect and repent

Richard J. Tofel   Less on politics, more on how government works (or doesn’t)

Jennifer Choi   What have we done for you lately?

Pia Frey   Building growth through tastemakers and their communities

Chicas Poderosas   More voices mean better information

Loretta Chao   Open up the profession

Tonya Mosley   True equity means ownership

A.J. Bauer   The year of MAGAcal thinking