A Focus on Exposure: Trauma and the psychological implications for TV news camera operators

Jasmine MacDonald

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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News frequently requires footage of stories relating to fatal car accidents, crime, murder, suicide, natural disasters, and various other forms of violence and tragedy within society. Camera operators are exposed first-hand to the emotional and visceral experience of filming individuals and communities in times of adversity and disaster. Despite this, there are currently no empirical studies focusing on camera operators’ psychological well-being or trauma exposure. This thesis details research considering what it is like to cover potentially traumatic events (PTEs) as a television (TV) news camera operator, and the psychological implications of this work.

The research was implemented according to a sequential between-strategies mixed-methods design and the findings are reported in three phases (Phases A–C). Phase A consisted of a series of systematic literature reviews (SLRs) relating to the psychological implications of journalistic work. The findings confirmed that camera operators have been grouped with other journalistic roles in previous research, but have not been researched individually. Research with general journalist samples indicates that journalists, particularly reporters, experience elevated levels of trauma exposure and reactions.

For Phase B, in-depth interviews were conducted with 21 TV news camera operators and reporters. Social constructivist and interpretivist theory informed the study, and the data was analysed according to a thematic analysis method. This study provided three critical insights regarding the experiences of trauma exposure of camera operators. First, camera operators experience what is referred to in the present study as the viewfinder effect, a seemingly unconscious perceptual mechanism serving to separate them from what they are filming, ultimately reducing their psychological distress. Second, there is a hierarchy within TV news organisations that has important implications for the social dynamics of news workers and the psychological well-being of camera operators. Finally, there are important differences between roles in terms of social visibility, which have both physical and psychological risk implications.

Phase C involved the use of an online quantitative questionnaire sampling both camera operators and other TV news workers (n = 134). The questionnaire included measures assessing demographics, professional and personal trauma exposure, and trauma reactions. The findings suggest that a high proportion of professionals currently working in the TV news industry could exceed clinical cut-offs for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Camera operators are not only exposed to as many PTEs as other news workers, they also experience elevated levels of psychological distress equivalent to that of other news workers.

The findings of this thesis serve to raise the status of the psychological implications of journalistic work for TV news camera operators. Previous trauma exposure and reactions research in journalist samples posits that reporters are an at-risk population and worthy of increased industry support and further research. Therefore, the finding that camera operators and other TV news workers have comparable levels of trauma exposure and trauma reactions makes camera operators a noteworthy population by association. Hence, camera operators are equally as deserving of acknowledgement in terms of the potential psychological risks and implications of their work, as well as the accompanying support and research interest.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Saliba, Anthony, Principal Supervisor
  • Hodgins, Gene, Principal Supervisor
  • Fox, Rachael, Principal Supervisor
Award date27 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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