Jan 7 2010 4:15 PM
A soldier can leave the battlefield, but coming home doesn't mean the war is over. Men and women in the military are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan only to face a new set of struggles, as they carry physical and psychological wounds into a society that doesn't fully understand their experience or their sacrifice. To help them through the challenges of reintegration, the public needs to hear their stories, told with effective, ethical and sensitive reporting.
To meet this need, dozens of journalists from around the United States are gathering today in Atlanta for a three-day workshop put on by Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism Continuing Education Program, the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma and the Carter Center’s Mental Health Program. They will be attending workshops and lectures with leading mental health and policy experts, veterans and veterans' advocates, deepening their knowledge and honing their skills in everything from navigating the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to interviewing techniques.
For the Carter Center, this is an extension of their efforts to reduce stigma and thereby discrimination against veterans with mental health issues. "Where do people get their understanding?" asks Thomas Bornemann, director of the Carter Center's Mental Health Program, "Most of them get it from the media."
Providing journalists with sources, techniques and deep knowledge to promote accurate understanding is part of the mission of the Columbia Journalism School's continuing education workshops. "[They] are designed to generate creative ways to tell a story — in this case the returning veterans, their family and social issues," says Arlene Morgan, Director of Prizes and Programs at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
She knows firsthand that the pitfalls on this particular subject are numerous.
"I think we tend to overuse the word 'hero' without understanding the painful journey that designation involves for some veterans. I covered veteran issues during the Vietnam War and I certainly was not equipped to understand the trauma of readjustment that those service people faced when they came home," Morgan says. "My husband served in Vietnam and it took him 15 years to understand what he needed to heal."
As a new generation of veterans returns home, the expertise provided by mental health and policy experts provides a natural addition to their journalistic expertise. Says Bornemann: "These journalists have faced these challenges and this workshop gives them an opportunity to process the challenges that they've faced and look for some novel solutions ... with some of the better minds in the country."
But it is also clear that this workshop is only a first step. Says Morgan: "I hope this collaboration with the Dart and Carter Centers is just the beginning of our work in this area. Considering the current state of the world, this will be an on-going narrative for years to come."
Check back at the Dart Blog in the coming days for more coverage of "When Veterans Return: A Workshop for Working Journalists."
Stan Alcorn is a multimedia journalist based in New York City. He has reported for NPR, Marketplace, WNYC, High Country News, the Orange County Register and others. From 2008 to 2012, he also worked for the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, relaunching, editing and producing multimedia content for dartcenter.org.
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