An Integral Training for Amateur and Expert Journalists

Audrey Thibert

By Audrey Thibert

I had no idea what to expect from this session and I expected to feel out of place. I had no previous experience with Virtual Reality, I have never covered a violent protest before and I was a student in a (virtual) room full of professionals. How would I fit into this training? Rather than feeling like an imposter, I felt included and valued. I learned many useful lessons from not only Aela Callan and Chris Post, but the other journalists attending the session. I am so glad I participated.


When I was registering for this training, I remember the most daunting part was the duration of the training. Did I really want to attend three and a half hours of stress management? This hesitancy was quickly eliminated as I joined the meeting and discovered a strategic, efficient and engaging layout. The leaders took their time explaining things and eased us into the more demanding parts of the session, then back out again.

While VR was central to the training, the periods in which we wore the headsets were short and fun. The training could have been complete without the VR aspect, replaced with a video or slideshow, but it would have lost much of its appeal. I appreciated the interactive atmosphere that made learning about a difficult topic fun and engaging. Even though the VR part of the training increased my stress levels, I never reached a point where I felt like I couldn’t participate any longer. This was a perfect introduction to VR for a newbie like me.

Not only was I genuinely entertained and engaged by this training, I also learned useful lessons for what I hope is a career of protest coverage and high stress journalism. Namely, I am now able to conduct a risk assessment using the P.E.T.E method and identify my stress levels using Cooper’s Color Code. The P.E.T.E method prompts journalists to consider people, environment, task and equipment as they assess the risk of their assignments. It is an easy way to evaluate a situation and make decisions regarding mental and physical safety. For me, this was doubly helpful as a way to take inventory of all of the elements of a situation so I could be better prepared. I will definitely use this method as I progress in my journalism career. Additionally, we were introduced to Cooper’s Color Code as a way to quantify and rank how we are feeling. This was especially helpful to me because it validated different stress responses and was followed up with explanations to why we might feel these emotions in stressful situations. As someone who likes to know why I am feeling a certain way, I will now be able to be more in touch with my own responses to situations.

Other participants with experience in the journalism field offered stories about their own struggles with stress during or after long assignments. As a student, I did not have much to add to this part of the conversation, but I was enthralled by the vulnerability of the other journalists. It was reassuring and comforting to know that everyone has stressors, no matter their experience level. It was obvious to me that this use of the training as a conversation rather than a lecture was therapeutic for all of the attendees. That was my favorite part of this training– the feeling of a shared, human experience.

As we closed out the meeting, we all shared an object or story that exemplified why we chose to become journalists. This moment was obviously special to everyone involved– even over Zoom there was an air of excitement and passion as the journalists shared their reasons. This exercise reminded us not only of our reasons for attending the training, but for continuing in the journalism industry. While each story was unique, there was a common theme of curiosity that connected all of us. As I enter the world of journalism, I can’t help but think about something Chris said during the training. In high stress situations, he said, “We don’t have to be first but we can’t be last.” Now armed with the ability to accurately assess my emotions and my surroundings, I know I won’t be last.