Perspectives

Investigative Reporter Explains How She Covers Trauma and Trauma Victims


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Since 2002, Rachel Dissell has been a reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. During her 17 years at the newspaper, she has covered trauma and trauma victims and one major tragedy after another.
Her career has focused on complex and emotionally draining issues such as the impact of violence on women and children, life-changing environmental topics, corruption and several instances of social injustice.
Her reporting has instigated major policy changes, new governmental procedures, and legislation to protect the citizenry.
Covering trauma victims and tragedies call for several special reporting techniques, according to Dissell.
It often takes a special cautious approach and patience on the part of the reporter to get victims to tell their stories completely and thoroughly, she notes.
A reporter often must approach a victim with caution not to scare them or push them into isolation, Dissell adds.
She also notes that burn-out is a major factor facing reporters who spend their careers covering human tragedies. She discusses ways that she regains her perspective and her equilibrium after immersing herself in stories of violence and human turmoil.
Dissell is a Dart Fellow at the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at the Columbia Journalism School and she also has been a Health Journalism Fellow at Annenberg School of Journalism at the University of Southern California.
Besides her full-time reporting, Dissell serves as an adjunct journalism professor at Kent State University, her alma mater.