Sometimes you have to edit disturbing topics, and they can get to you. Even if the topic doesn’t remind you of past trauma, it can fill your mind with upsetting thoughts. There are tips for dealing with this the Verification Handbook, that Mark Allen reviewed in an earlier post. Gavin Reese (director of the Dart Centre Europe) wrote this section of the book especially for dealing with disturbing photos and videos, but his advice is not difficult to adapt to dealing with written content.
Deflating the Affect With These Tricks
- Understand what you’re dealing with
- Eliminate needless repeat exposure
- Adjust the viewing environment (smaller image, lower resolution, less bright; sound off for video)
- Build distance into the viewing experience (avoid focusing on faces, build temporary masks around [words or] images; focus on mechanics of language)
- Break frequently for pleasing images, time in nature, exercise
- Avoid such work before sleeping
- Build a view of outside into your workspace, add plants and other natural elements
“Develop a deliberate self-care plan,” writes Reese. Regardless of the deadline, “it’s important to preserve a breathing space for yourself outside of work.”
Reese provides other guidelines for managers and for maintaining the workflow in a way to minimize unnecessary exposure—especially for staff in news outlets.
Ignore the impact of working on disturbing subjects and you may start feeling that even though the subjects themselves are quite remote and distant, they are “seeping into one’s personal headspace,” Reese writes. Vicarious trauma may not be the norm for editors, but “[n]egative reactions, such as disgust, anxiety and helplessness, are not unusual…” It becomes more likely when exposure is repeated: the slow drip effect.
The Slow Drip
Editors who spend months with a subject, evaluating it slowly, on minute levels, might experience a slow drip. Or, they might find that focusing on the mechanics of the language provides a protective barrier, taking some of the power out of the words.
How to Disempower the Words
Reading backward or out of order might also help mitigate the power of the narrative. Though this approach might hamper substantive and could only be used for copy editing certain types of products.
- Read backward, one sentence at a time.
- Read pages out of order, every page number ending in one, then every page number ending in two, and so on.
What Is Disturbing
What disturbs you is a very personal matter. Some people have difficulty with topics that others see as merely clinical (surgery descriptions, for example), some topics reactivate past trauma, and some activate worry about loved ones. We’ve discussed how to survive editing the disturbing topics before.
Pay attention to your reactions. You may not even know that a subject will disturb you until you’re well into the edit. Start that self-care as soon as you can.
The Verification Handbook is available as a free download in ePub, PDF, and mobi (Kindle) formats in four languages as well as English. It is an initiative of the European Journalism Centre, edited by Craig Silverman.