Saturday, April 18, 2009

"Breaking News, Breaking Down": the trauma for journalists who cover it (Filmfest DC)

On Saturday, April 18 Filmfest DC showed the 36 minute video documentary “Breaking News, Breaking Down”, about trauma journalism and the effects on journalists, at the Goethe Center in Washington.

The film is produced and directed by Mike Walter, who was present for the screening for extended Q&A.

Walter, employed by USA Today on September 11, 2001, was stuck in traffic on I-395 near the Pentagon, having heard about the WTC attacks by car radio, when he saw the American Airlines plane flying too low as it ploughed into the Pentagon. The film covers another journalist who photographed the South Tower as it imploded and barely escaped the debris.

The film then covers the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, a resource for journalists who cover violence.

A major portion of the film covers a New Orleans reporter who injured a policeman in a chase that he does not remember, and was able to plead out as a misdemeanor. He does not remember the incident. He lost his home to Hurricane Katrina.

The film opens in the overgrown ruins of the Ninth Ward in New Orleans, and much of the film shows journalists working together to restore their homes.

The Q&A hit on a bizarre point: people tend to think of journalists as lost in an intellectual world of objectivity and beyond emotional commitment to real people. There is an impression that journalists cannot report on their own lives – which brings up the subject of gonzo journalism (see the review here July 8). But Hurricane Katrina forced many reporters to live what they wrote – many huddled in sleeping bags as they lost their homes. Of course, that perception sounds incorrect, as war correspondents have to live in the field with the troops. Ask Anderson Cooper and Sebastian Junger how they paid their dues.

A related film reviewed on another blog is "Journalists Killed in the Line of Duty".

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