Experiences of Vicarious Trauma Among Journalists: A Preliminary Analysis


The current study measured experiences of vicarious trauma among Journalists. Vicarious trauma (M=41.90, SD= 7.28) eight-item scale, 7-point, Likert scoring was administered on 300 journalists working on the crime beat. Data were collected in April and May 2021. Findings portrayed that journalists experience trouble at work, focus, sensations of weakness, difficulty managing work content, exposure to traumatic material and narratives. There are gender-wise differences observed in the sample. The present study's findings will help design an intervention plan for journalists, which is helpful for them to minimize the adverse effects of traumatic experiences. For developing a targeted intervention plan, an initial analysis was conducted to observe the existing vicarious traumatization among journalists. For preliminary analysis research, the administration of the vicarious trauma scale for preliminary analysis research is poised directly to measure whether the target sample is experiencing the vicarious traumatization to lead to intervention development

Keywords. Trauma, Journalists, exposure.


Cross-media integration has increased the demand for new abilities, expertise, and insight among news journalists in the last fifteen years. The source of further information and communication technologies increases the demand for new skills, knowledge, and understanding (Hermida, 2014). From the comfort of their desk, journalists may get exposed to secondary trauma due to growing reliance on fast, cost-effective digital tools that have created such situations where they view horrific content all day on their desks.  Journalists who are working in the office, on desks are majorly ignored considering their work does not require primary experience to trauma, whereas they have the secondary experience to trauma while writing the columns on trauma stories and editing horrific raw content, which itself becomes the source of vicarious traumatization. Journalists vicariously exposed to trauma events ultimately develop cognitive alterations that lead to work-related traumatization, also known as vicarious trauma among those who cover violence as part of their employment on a routine basis (Foa et al., 1999).  

Similarly, journalists have been documented to suffer from work-related trauma. Those who work as editors and spend a lot of time at their desks reading, writing, and seeing terrible images suffer from work-related trauma. Work-related distress vicarious trauma has been associated with a negative impact on work-related functioning over a long period. Due to the nature of their work, which expects them to be available at the crime location of an awful event, journalists are recognized to be a high-hazard populace for being damaged and encountering hurtful impacts on their expert execution of the nature of their employment.

According to researchers, the unique effect working with traumatized individuals has on trauma workers is vicarious trauma (McCann & Pearlman, 1990). Through an empathic connection with the trauma survivors’ traumatic experiences, vicarious trauma explains the process and method by which the trauma worker’s inner experience is profoundly and permanently changed (McCann & Pearlman, 1990; Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995). 

Exposure to work-related traumatic content has a profound negative impact on trauma worker work-related functions. (Sprang, Craig, & Clark, 2011). Emotional tiredness, a lack of work motivation, and poor job performance are all symptoms of persistent exposure to stressful situations at work (Bell, Kulkarni, & Dalton, 2003). There's a decrease in the general nature of the professional’s work functioning life. When such an expert is over and over presented with traumatic material, their patterns, world perspectives, mental convictions are upset. Additionally, they sense a deficiency of control which has extreme outcomes in their work environment (Dombo & Gray, 2013). Individuals indicate reduced employee productivity, signs of burnout, poor work functioning, and job dissatisfaction for those who work in demanding environments where traumatic content is frequently exposed (Sprang, Craig, & Clark, 2011). There is a negative link between work stress and work functioning consistent in several studies (Middleton & Potter, 2015). 

According to one study linking vicarious trauma with journalism, there’s a bad influence on the professional health of those who cover stories or interview trauma survivors regularly and get vicariously traumatized (Melzer, 2018). Being a victim of violence is a terrible experience; the discovery that traumatic suffering might arise from an innocuous act of witnessing violence, which includes vicarious traumatization, was a breakthrough. It steered the conversation about trauma in journalism in the direction of local journalists (Specht, Tsilman, 2008). Weidmann and Papsdorf (2010) investigated on broadcast journalists how viewing footage of the incident of violent occurrences affected them. According to studies, the risk is more among journalists dispatched to cover horrific events in the field than employees in TV newsrooms; this group does not appear to be at a higher risk for psychological disorders or posttraumatic symptoms. Only four years later, it was concluded journalists could develop signs of vicarious stress due to working on eyewitness media (Dworznik& Grubb, 2007).

Materials and method

A total sample of 300 journalists (n= 256 men; n=44 women) was selected from media houses of Lahore and Multan (Pakistan). Purposive sampling technique was used for data collection, self-reported questionnaires are given to participants. The inclusion criteria for sample selection were to ensure two years’ work experience, Only Pakistani nationals, and working on job assignments relevant to trauma experiences. The exclusion criteria were any disability (Physical or psychological); individuals working on administrative tasks or any other task not related to trauma etc.  The study sample was approached at their media houses where they were employed. At first, permission from the high authorities of the relevant media houses was taken, then the individuals were approached and ensured about the confidentiality of information.  


Vicarious trauma scale. Vicarious Trauma Scale (Vrklevski & Franklin, 2008), an eight-item self-administered scale with 7-point Likert responses ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). The items measure participants’ indications of vicarious traumatization related to exposure to work-related traumatic material. Examples of items include, “My job involves exposure to traumatized and distressed individuals” and “It is hard to stay positive and optimistic given some of the things I encounter in my work.” The measure has demonstrated adequate reliability in the original sample (Cronbach's α = .88). This scale was developed to measure the experience of vicarious traumatization among professionals who deal with traumatic material secondarily in the context of their work. It does not have reversed coded items. It includes items indicating vicarious traumatization among professionals i.e., thinking of uncomfortable material at home, problem dealing with work content, exposure to traumatic material at work. SPSS-23 version is used for analysis.


The sample of the study was approached at their media houses where they are employed. At first, permission from the high authorities of the relevant media house was taken for data collection. Then, participants were briefed about the study; then, they were provided with an informed consent form to sign if they agreed to participate in the study; after this, participants were provided with a booklet comprising the demographic sheet and questionnaires. After the completion of booklets, participants were thanked for their participation in the study. The collected questionnaires were numbered and then put to analysis. 

Results and Discussion  

Table 1 shows the descriptive statistics of the scale. The alpha coefficient of Vicarious Trauma scale is .76 of the sample. The scale has demonstrated a satisfactory level of reliability. The mean value indicates that the average value of the sample. The value of SD= 7.28 indicates the disparity of the data. 

Figure 1: Frequency of Exposure to Traumatic Material among Journalists (N=300)

1= Several times a week 

2= Once per week 

3= Several times a month  

4= Once per month 

5= Daily   

Graphical representation reflects that the journalists have mostly several times a week exposure to traumatic material, and very few of them have exposure of once per month to traumatic material. However, some of the journalists have exposure once per week to traumatic material. Such journalists also cover other beats along with the crime beat. 

The responses depict the percentage of journalists agreeing to respond. The percentage of journalists agreeing to respond illustrates the percentage of journalists agreeing to respond to the indicators of vicarious traumatization. 90% of journalists agreed that they thought about distressing material at home. In addition, 78% of journalists in our study agreed to experience the feeling of helplessness to assist the individual they would like to. Similarly, 80.3% of journalists agreed to be exposed to traumatized individuals. In addition, 82.7% of journalists agreed to be exposed to the distressing material at work. In addition, 70% of journalists responded having difficulty dealing with the content of work. 66.3% of journalists agreed to be distressed by listening to individuals’ stories. 58% felt overwhelmed by the workload 55.3% of journalists responded to difficulty staying positive at work.

Figure 2: Percentages of responses of participants to the vicarious trauma related indicators (N=300)

Table 2 indicates the gender differences in study variables. The analysis depicts significant difference for Vicarious Trauma (t= -2.9, p< .001). The findings suggest that women report higher vicarious trauma (M=44.82) than men (M=41.40). Women scored high on vicarious trauma. Women tend to report higher vicarious trauma than men. A review demonstrated that both male and female legal officials are bound to encounter mental pain due to damaging cases however the impact might be higher among females as females have an enthusiastic part because of that, they display higher wistful reactions to awful circumstances experienced either directly or vicariously (Muchemi, 2017; Bremer & Caskie, 2003). Item no. 1 indicates exposure to distressing material; there’s no significant gender difference on that similarly on exposure to traumatized individuals, we could not achieve significant difference among men and women. Troubled by paying attention to people's stories, difficulty managing the substance of work, sensations of misery, overpowered by responsibility, and difficulty remaining positive are indicators in the vicarious trauma scale; there's a critical contrast for people. In all cases, women report high reactions. There's no critical gender distinction for indicator (item no. 5), pondering troubling material at home.


We have found the effects of vicarious trauma as per the available literature. Results illustrate that despite women being few participants, they report higher vicarious trauma than men, which led to significant differences. It has implications in theoretical, practical, and contextual domains for both psychology and journalism. It plays a vital role in extending the literature of vicarious trauma in Pakistani culture and specifically in journalism. There’s an insight into newsroom culture regarding vicarious trauma among journalists working in crime departments. The findings of vicarious trauma will be helpful for intervention programs that will be useful for facilitating proper occupational health and work functioning of journalists in Pakistan. Concerned authorities must train the journalists working on crime beats to enable them to deal with trauma-related material and enhance their work functioning. It is suggested that vicarious trauma among journalists should be studied with the longitudinal research design to incorporate the journalists’ personal stressors. Utilizing the vicarious trauma scale, we notice the reactions to the indicators of vicarious trauma to which maximum participants responded in a positive direction, which means indicated high levels of VT. Journalists are neglected experiencing high vicarious traumatization according to the percentage of responses. These initial analyses are fruitful to further assess and design intervention plans with effectiveness while incorporating strategies more global, relevant to the tasks of journalists and the context in which they work., which may reduce their vulnerability to vicarious traumatization.


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About Author

Noreeta Suleman is a PhD scholar at National Institute of Psychology, Centre of Excellence, Quaid e Azam University Islamabad. Correspondence: noreetamphil19@nip.edu.pk