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This issue’s column was submitted by Penny Cockerell, a 2000 Dart Ochberg fellow who reported for The Oklahoman in Oklahoma City and Dallas/Fort Worth for many years. She is vice president of the Dart Society, an organization of journalists who have attended ISTSS conferences since 1999 under sponsorship of the Dart Center. The Fellows Program evolved into the ISTSS Media SIG in 1998.

I became a Dart fellow after covering the Oklahoma City bombing from the early days of debris removal, to the trials of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, to McVeigh’s execution. When time came for me to slow down, I struggled in a huge way. An Ochberg Dart Fellowship came my way in 2000, and I leapt at the chance. At the ISTSS San Antonio conference, I found an oasis of journalists enmeshed in dealing with all forms of trauma, from covering genocide in Rwanda to handling the daily police grind. Journalists at the conference spent a week reflecting on careers and mental health in a way they rarely do. From that a bond formed that remains intact today—we call it the Dart Society.

Journalists typically aren’t joiners and don’t often afford themselves the luxury of self-analysis. But they know a tough job when they see one, so when a newsroom is caught up in covering a local tragedy of significant size, the Dart Society sends those journalists boxes of snack food. That gesture, as personal experience tells us, can lift a journalist’s spirit.

The Dart Society, which will number more than 40 members when ISTSS meets in New Orleans in November, reaches out to other journalists at workshops and conventions. Some members have traveled the world on various missions introduced by the Dart Center. We currently are acting on the idea of helping a few newsrooms develop stories that go beyond the initial surface coverage of victims. We will focus our first effort on a small California newsroom that anticipates the return of many soldiers and Marines from Iraq. Our idea is to cover these returning military and their families as they adjust to ordinary life again. The newsroom has a journalist and photographer who recently returned from Iraq. We figure they have come home affected as well, and we’ll be there to say the snack food is on us.

The Dart Society deliberately keeps loose. We don’t need a lot of structure. We don’t pay dues. Most of us stay out of the society pool more often than we jump in. But there’s considerable mental solace in being a part of it, in just knowing that Dart Fellow Seamus Kelters in Northern Ireland understands the emotions and dilemmas of Dart Fellow Deirdre Stoelzle in Casper, Wyoming. Our voices commune via e-mail at times when needed. For instance, when Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was murdered in Pakistan, we gathered in cyberspace to voice our anger and disbelief in between our daily deadlines.

Like railroad tracks, ISTSS and the Dart Society are slowly moving together toward the horizon. We’ll always be different, but our commonality is becoming more the norm, and that alone makes me glad that ISTSS is out there. Meanwhile, we’ll keep reporting the news with the goal of being sensitive to the havoc that trauma creates in people’s lives, while ISTSS continues its meaningful path. No doubt we’ll meet time and again.