Journalists Under Fire (And Who's Helping)

07/14/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Julia Moulden Speaker, columnist and author, 'RIPE: Rich, Rewarding Work After 50'

Did you read Nicholas D. Kristof's "Bullets Over Beijing," his account of being in Tiananmen Square on that fateful night twenty years ago?

Uniformed army troops massed on the far end of the square, periodically raising their assault rifles and firing volleys directly at the crowd I was in, and we would all rush backward in terror until the firing stopped...Some protestors shouted insults at the troops or threw bricks or Molotov cocktails...but none of us dared go forward to help the injured as they writhed...I was the Beijing bureau chief [of the New York Times] and I was cowering behind a layer of other people whom I hoped would absorb bullets; the notebook in my hand was stained with perspiration from fear.

If you don't know who did move into this one-sided battlefield -- as I did not until I read his column -- you may just weep at the telling. Please read it.

The line, "The notebook in my hand was stained with perspiration from fear" stayed with me all this week.

First, I want to thank Nicholas for his honesty. Machismo plays a real role in reportage, and can be especially evident in those who tell us stories from conflict zones around the world. I was impressed that he told the truth of that evening: who among us would not be afraid?

All of this brought the British New Radical, Mark Brayne, to mind (New Radicals are people like you and me who've found a way to put skills acquired in their careers to work on the world's greatest challenges -- for more, please see archived articles). As it happens, Mark had his wake-up call the same year as Tiananmen Square -- 1989.

Mark had been a journalist with the BBC for decades, and found that the working atmosphere of journalism was an enormously rich one, "I knew some of the most interesting people on the planet, was changing posts every three or four years, immersing myself in different cultures, and learning new languages, which I adore." Despite it all, he was deeply unhappy. "All the while, there was this drumbeat going on inside: 'This is not me, this is not me...'"

The experience of covering the violent revolution that overthrew central Europe's last Communist leader, Nicolae Ceausescu -- including "the feeling of love and brotherhood" in the streets in the days that followed (and a passionate love affair he began at the same time), blew Mark's heart wide open. He knew he couldn't continue on the same path.

Mark's career reinvention took some interesting turns. Initially, he wanted to become a psychotherapist. But as he was studying, he realized that what he wanted to do was "circle back in" and bring things he was learning to bear on the work that has sustained him for so long.

First, he helped establish the BBC's first confidential counseling service, "at a time when journalists in Britain were hostile to the idea of revealing personal emotion." And then he began working with the Dart Center -- a global network of journalists, journalism educators, and health professionals. The Center's mission was in line with what Mark wanted to do: improve coverage of trauma, conflict, and tragedy, and address the consequences of such coverage for journalists.

Today, Mark has hung up his reporter's boots. He works as a psychotherapist with individuals and news organizations, specializing in trauma and death. His series of workshops, The D-Word, have been recommended by the UK's National Council of Palliative Care and the Department of Health.

The Dart Center has just announced that applications are being accepted for the 2009 Dart Center Ochberg Fellowships. This is a unique program for mid-career journalists who want to deepen their knowledge of emotional trauma and improve coverage of violence, conflict, and tragedy.

The Center's definition of "violence, conflict, and tragedy" includes "street crime and family violence, natural disasters and accidents, war and genocide." In previous years, fellows have included everyone from small-town reporters to those working online, and from war photographers to foreign correspondents for international news organizations.

Beyond the fellowships, the Center is also a resource for journalists who cover violence - they offer events, resources, and programs. And publish thoughtful pieces by journalists. There's one on the site right now by Eyal Press, a contributing writer for The Nation. It's called "Making Sense of George Tiller." And it calls for a reasoned approach to the coverage of the recent murder of this physician and abortion provider.

Given all that's going on in the world -- both in terms of conflict zones and with mainstream media under a different kind of fire -- it seems to me a particularly relevant offering. I'm thinking, too, of the recent rash of kidnappings of press while on assignment (the BBC's Alan Johnston, for instance, was held captive for more than 100 days in Gaza; freelance journalist Amanda Lindhout has been held for more than 10 months in Somalia, according to Reporters Without Borders).

Please share your experience of being a correspondent in difficult circumstances. Or bring to our attention the work of journalists whose work you admire. And what do you think of the Dart Center's fellowship program? Post a comment below, or email me directly at

Julia Moulden is the author of We Are The New Radicals: A Manifesto for Reinventing Yourself and Saving the World [] She also writes speeches for the world's most visionary leaders. [] She would love to give an inspiring talk about the New Radicals movement to your organization.