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UW to help journalists cope with Ground Zero

The University of Washington soon will open a facility in New York City to help journalists deal with the trauma of covering the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The Dart Center Ground Zero is one of the more unusual support efforts since the attacks. But it’s one that some New York journalists say is long overdue, especially for those who were at the World Trade Center minutes after the attacks and those still covering the tragedy daily.

“They just stay on the story and never back away and talk about it,” said Roger Simpson, director of the UW’s Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma.

“If you are an observer, it doesn’t matter how hard you try to be objective … It tires you out. You are sharing everybody else’s pain without a chance to address your own.”

The facility will be run by two staff members who will offer referrals to mental-health professionals and provide other support and trauma studies while conducting research on traumatic effects on journalists.

The temporary office will be open for about six months and funded by a $250,000 grant the UW’s School of Communications will receive from the Dart Foundation, based in Mason, Mich., administrators said.

New York Daily News photographer David Handschuh said he considers the UW’s center a boon. “Public-safety people like paramedics for years have had stress-debriefing programs after they work a terrible crime scene. They get to talk about it and get it out of their minds,” he said.

“This isn’t true for journalists.”

Recently, Handschuh invited his colleagues to share their experiences, and 125 photojournalists showed up, revealing how emotionally wrenching it was to continue covering the attacks. “There were people working 20 to 30 days, 12 to 14 hours every day, with no time to decompress,” he said.

“Everybody who was there (at the trade center) would characterize it as a field trip through hell.”