Credit: Photo by Alex Padurariu on Unsplash

Journalists are being called to participate in a research project that seeks to better understand the psychological impact of being put in morally challenging situations.

The study, led by Dr Victoria Williamson at Kings' College London and former BBC journalist Gavin Campbell, has a particular emphasis on moral injury, defined as acts, or failure to prevent acts, that go against a moral code.

Moral injury is a phenomenon - not a mental illness - which is known to impact war and conflict correspondents who bear witness to acts that violate their morals and values. Crime reporters have also revealed that moral injury is an occupational hazard of intruding into the grief and shock of families who have lost loved ones. But there is still more to learn about how other types of journalists are affected.

However, journalism is not the only profession affected by moral injury. Dr Victoria Williamson's previous research has explored the extent of moral injury in the military and armed forces, front-line health workers during the covid-19 pandemic and veterinarians.

Dr Williamson says that a theme that ran through those studies is a sense of 'institutional betrayal', that workers had an expectation of protection that was not met.  

Prior research has also led to recommendations to improve workplaces: to provide greater mental preparation for the aftermath of the job, to build smaller teams that foster a closer social circle, and to encourage more team decisions so that outcomes do not fall squarely on one individual.

Journalism is something of a unique industry, says Campbell, now a researcher into treating the psychological consequences of trauma. Its processes and methods are often "ripe for moral ambiguity" leaving journalists to reconcile difficult decisions and emotions.

"You can't wade through the misery of others without getting wet," he says, paraphrasing Dr Anthony Feinstein, one of the leading psychologists and researchers into how moral injury impacts journalists.

The research project aims to garner more evidence, experiences and needed interventions from UK-based media workers - including journalists, producers, camera operators, picture editors, photographers, broadcast engineers - even if their work takes them abroad. This needs to be with a recognised English-language media organisation, based in the UK, for at least two years.

Participants are invited to complete an anonymous survey and/or an in-depth interview. Deadline to participate is flexible, but ideally before May 2024. Find out more here.

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).