Victoria Milko

January, 2017


People who care

As of the date that I am writing this, the Center to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has reported that there have been 48 journalism deaths in 2016. As alarming as that number might be, it’s far from a comprehensive—just off the top of my head there are three people missing from that list that I met earlier in the year before their tragic deaths.

Being a journalist has never been a walk-in-the-park profession. Whether it dealing with fiery editors who are facing tight deadlines on election night or photographing firefight from the frontlines of a war, there are countless obstacles that take skill, hard skin, practice and training to navigate with confidence.

In order to better educate myself as to some of these skills, be a more valuable asset to those I’m working with in the field and (more than anything) to keep my mother happy, I attended the Reporting Safely in Crisis Zones course at Columbia University’s Dart Center in October of this year.

Over the course of four days I had instructional and hands-on training from esteemed professional such as Judith Matloff, Sawyer Alberi and Bruce Shapiro. From sitting in a classroom discussing how to handle potentially hazardous situations (“You and a reporter in the jungle and reach a rebel-controlled roadblock- what do you do?”) to learning basic encryption and cyber-security tools to pinching off and packing the wounds of simulated spurting arteries in a raw chicken carcass- the course covered an incredible amount of information. A majority of the attendees were female, so topics like sexual assault and handling gender differences were also crucial parts of the course’s training curriculum.

Yet perhaps the most meaningful part of the course to me was the day we focused on mental health. While the statistics that the CPJ has released may provide some insight to the death toll facing journalists today, there is little research and data available on the mental health of journalists. Drug abuse, alcoholism, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have become an almost expected part of the job in some journalism circles

Every time we enter a hostile environment we’re not only putting ourselves at risk—we’re putting our coworkers at risk as well as they often feel responsible for our well being in the field. For the longevity, respect and duty we have not only to ourselves, our peers, but the professional as a whole, I can’t stress enough how important I think it is to not only receive this training, but to encourage colleagues to receive it as well.

I can’t help but write a big thank you to the Dart Center for accepting me to the course, but also thank you to the other classmates who took the course with me, and who I now more willing to trust in the field.

Victoria Milko is an independent multimedia journalist based in Washington, D.C. In the past year her passion for storytelling has taken her from the back rooms of underground sex clubs our of nation’s capital to illegal abortion sites in Myanmar. Between assignments Victoria is working towards earning her Master’s degree in Multiplatform Journalism from the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism. She is a recipient of the Emerging Voices Scholarship through AWMF and the Ford Foundation.