Royal commission presents challenges for Australia’s newsrooms

under the dockSLATED to run at least three years, with an interim report due in mid-2014 after initial public hearings, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse presents Australian newsrooms with some very big challenges.

So says Brisbane-based freelance journalist Trina McLellan, a journalism researcher and educator since the mid-1990s, who has highlighted some of the most obvious challenges for all news media outlets in a timely issues paper, Reporting moral outrage: Reducing the ramifications of royal commission coverage.

“Research and past experience tells us that many news workers find their most difficult assignments – the ones that cause them to lose the most sleep – are ones involving harm to, or abuse of, children,” McLellan said.

“The upcoming royal commission, which will hold its first public hearings in Melbourne from April 3, therefore should be on the radar for all responsible newsroom managers.

“Journalists who have sat through previous state-based inquiries into child sexual abuse will tell you, privately, that they found the work not only draining, but also deeply distressing and hard to put behind them.

“Many never want to do that sort of work again.”

In her issues paper, McLellan canvasses a range of potential stresses and risks for frontline newsroom personnel and presents more than a dozen practical steps for editorial managers to ameliorate those risks.

From repeated exposure to victim’s stories and the extended timetable for this royal commission, to potential psychological harm as well as online and social media complications, McLellan dissects the inappropriate newsroom attitudes and practices that ensure those risks are magnified.

Strategies to overcome these potentially negative factors round out the issues paper, which features plenty of helpful hyperlinks to reputable information, research and training websites.

* A founding board member from 2004 to 2009 of the Australian affiliate of the now Columbia University-based Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, Trina McLellan has also completed a master’s thesis on the impact of news reporting on victims and survivors of traumatic incidents.

Worth reading: Out of the darkness: Tommy’s story by Lee Mylne

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