Grant funds follow-up to Oso, Marysville/Pilchuck tragedies

By Darin Watkins, Edward R. Murrow College of Communication

tragedyPULLMAN, Wash. – A Washington State University study will place microphones in popular gathering spots of the traumatized communities of Oso and Marysville/Pilchuck, Wash., along with posted questions from news media. The goal is to determine if this method provides for journalism that is effective yet respects community members as they cope with tragedy.

WSU’s Edward R. Murrow College of Communication has received one of 11 grants nationwide – from more than 100 applicants  – from the Online News Association ( to encourage journalism programs to experiment with new ways of providing news and information.

The $35,000 grant will fund the “Journalism and Trauma” project conducted by Murrow College students and faculty and Everett’s Daily Herald newspaper a year after 2014’s fatal Oso mudslide and Marysville/Pilchuck school shootings.

“One of our core goals is to provide a platform for community voices to reach journalists,” said Benjamin Shors (, a clinical assistant professor of journalism and media production at the college. “We recognize that news media need to gather information after a tragedy, but we are also keenly aware that media coverage can create further trauma in local communities – and in newsrooms.”

The project will use the “listening post” concept created by media developer and journalist Jesse Hardman in 2013 in New Orleans. It uses cell phones and public recording devices to inspire conversation with citizens about important issues in the city.

“At the Daily Herald, our journalists are encouraged to allow communities and individuals to retain control over their own stories,” said Neal Pattison, the newspaper’s executive editor. “This project is compatible with our approach to news coverage.”

“This grant gives us the opportunity to experiment with new techniques of field reporting in places that have experienced disasters and violence,” said Carolyn Robinson (, a clinical assistant professor with the Murrow College.

It also will provide the basis for a new course in reporting in disaster situations and handling the emotional trauma faced by journalists in covering these events on a long-term basis. Murrow students Marc Wai, Calley Hair and McKayla Fox wrote and produced news packages this spring on how the Herald’s coverage affected its journalists. See a video above.

“It’s been a great experience for our students to work with the Everett Daily Herald this year to learn how it handles interviews with people who have suffered personal tragedies such as the Oso mudslide,” Robinson said. “These students have already grown tremendously through this community partnership, both as journalists and as human beings, and I’m excited that our team can continue this work.”

A full description of the project can be found at


Carolyn Robinson, WSU Murrow College, 509-335-5219,
Ben Shors, WSU Murrow College, 509-335-1547,
Lisa Waananen, WSU Murrow College clinical assistant professor, 509-335-5229,