Dear Media, Some Breaking News from Your Anxious Audience…

We need informed, not inflamed, news in a time of global fear. The old rules of reporting don’t serve us now. This is a pivotal moment to reimagine the role of the press in a new world of threat and uncertainty where ‘back to normal’ is no longer an option.

By Lu Hanessian, MSc

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

It’s hard to fathom where we are. A virulent pathogen has invaded all fifty states, and hundreds of millions of Americans are living in a social and economic recession for collective survival. For the nation’s psyche, it’s an open-ended experiment in coping with uncertainty and fear on a scale we’ve never experienced before. And when we most need connection for comfort, we must physically retreat from each other for safety.

We have no roadmap. We have models. Medical experts warn us to steel for a staggering loss of life in the coming weeks and months, potentially more than the Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and South Korean wars combined.

Nobody knows what lies ahead, or when and how we will re-animate our lives, but it’s dawning on us now that there’s no getting ‘back to normal’.

The world has changed.

And, your audience has changed, too.

We’re not the same viewers as we were before city streets became deserted, schools and businesses closed, and more than sixteen million people filed for unemployment. In a flash, we went from primaries to pandemic, and fear is now our common denominator.

Every day, the bold graphic box on our television screens bears the savage math of this pandemic. Breaking news alerts compete with harrowing video of makeshift morgue trucks. We hear the battlefield language: ‘apocalyptic’, ‘catastrophe’, ‘invisible enemy’. Doctors and nurses are called ‘soldiers’ working the ‘front lines’ of this ‘war’. Health care workers beg for protection while medical gear is pushed to the highest global bidders, in cruel contrast to thousands of heart-wrenching FaceTime farewells in overcrowded hospitals.

Our nervous systems are on overload. Disoriented and desperate for distraction and connection, we turn to social media, where a growing push to “limit news consumption”, to just … “turn off the news” is becoming widespread advice.

This concerns me. I don’t think we can afford to tune you out now.

I have a vested interest in broadcast media and the role it plays in our daily lives. I used to be one of you. As a former network television anchor and host of a dozen TV shows over the course of twenty-five years, I get it.

As a neuroscience, trauma and resilience educator, I understand fear very differently. We’re not built to thrive under prolonged threat. Fear travels at lightning speed across both neural and digital networks. As the virus and our fear spreads, our brains perceive danger everywhere.

And the current news cycle is contributing to our panic and dread.

In the face of unprecedented and unrelenting chaos and trauma, we are wired to freeze. Helplessness can produce immobility, lethargy and apathy. What is the consequence of collective trauma, of mass passivity?

The public and the press are at a critical threshold.

We need to stay connected. To be alert, not alarmed.

But, the old rules of reporting don’t serve us anymore.

We are in uncharted territory. And, we need uncharted news coverage. This is a pivotal moment to reframe and reimagine the role of the media in a new social and societal order.

Trauma-informed, not inflamed

We need “trauma-informed” journalism. That doesn’t mean we want you to sugar-coat adversity. It means you anchor your coverage in an understanding of and responsiveness to the impact of trauma, and apply trauma-informed principles into your writing and story selection, guest bookings and interviews, your graphics, tone and delivery, and your coverage of the president and his administration’s response to this crisis.

Implementing trauma-informed principles into broadcast news means applying key science-based approaches to communicating effectively and responsibly with an increasingly traumatized population. I recommend focusing on four science-based tenets: Predictability, Digestibility, Sensitivity, and Inclusivity.

2. Make Journalism Digestible, Substantive and Contextual:

3. Make Sensitivity Your Strength

4. Make Inclusivity a Journalistic Imperative

We know you’re working without a ton of sleep while you also tend to your family members, partners, and personal safety. As you manage your own fears, risks, and health challenges, you still keep showing up.

And that’s why we must keep tuning in.

Viewers don’t mind if you broadcast from your makeshift basement studio or from the rooftop. Stay safe. We all need to know we will be accompanied throughout this process by people with the will, courage and empathy to tell the truth especially when it hurts. In a world of unknowns, you and your audience will need each other to stay calm and informed, to map out and co-navigate the way through — and forward.

Lu Hanessian, MS, is a stress and trauma resilience researcher and educator, an award-winning journalist, former NBC network television anchor and Discovery Health Channel host, founder of “Raising the Future Now” and host of an upcoming podcast.

President, Founder “Integrate Resilience”. Researcher, educator, journalist, former NBC network anchor/Discovery Health Channel.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store