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FEB 11 2015
COFFEE WITH CAIT MCMAHON
By Bev Wilkinson
So it is round three of the challenge to have coffee with
experts on social networking site Linked In.
This time we met Cait McMahon who is manager of trauma
and resilience programs at the Australian Broadcasting
I decided to invite one of my journalism interns Melissa Haber
from Swinburne University to meet Cait and learn how to
interview war veterans from an expert.
Words cannot describe how exciting it was to score an insight
into the world of journalism at the ABC.
We were so lucky, that Cait decided to give us a tour of the
ABC and we got to see a newsroom in action.
It is funny the studio looks so big on television but in person it
is a small space, kind of resembling the studios, which the
students use at university.
I loved that we got to see where the reporters worked and
even the cameramen having morning tea before their next job!
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Soon we were headed to the canteen where we ordered our
coffees and found a comfy spot to chat.
I started to explain the student internship program, which I
created three years ago to document stories of seniors.
Then I chatted about the war veteran’s project, which involves
journalism students around Australia documenting stories of
veterans from the past, present and future.
Cait stopped me and asked, “How are you funding this
project?” I replied I’m the main funder; this is something that
I’m really passionate about, because I get to use my university
degree and most of all mentor journalism students.
Then Cait mentioned one of her friends who may be able to
help with potential funding or even advice on interviewing
Anyways Cait started chatting about the DART CENTRE FOR
JOURNALISM AND TRAUMA and mentioned some great
resources such as the News Media and Trauma video, which
showcases a wide range of Australian journalists recounting
experiences and lessons learned while covering traumatic
It is such a great video that covers real life experiences of
journalists in the field and how they coped with situations such
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as horrible car accidents. Some of the journalists had no idea
how to deal with the trauma and instead of talking about their
experiences drowned their fears at the local pub.
We got chatting about creating a comfortable space for the
veteran to be interviewed in. Cait told us to make a plan, make
sure the interview is set up to ensure the veteran feels in
control, it is the simple things that matter such as making them
a cup of tea and explaining in detail what the interview will
involve. Even asking the veteran where they would like to sit
develops a form of trust.
Sometimes the best thing to do is set an interview up for
success ask if there are no go zones and any concerns about
what will happen during the meeting.
One of the fears from students is what to do if the veteran
starts crying or becomes angry during the interview, which is
very relevant as some of the memories being brought up may
be quite distressing.
Cait’s advice is to simply ask if the veteran would like to stop,
some veterans may find it a relief to cry and let it all out.
If it gets too distressing, Cait says to ask if the veteran would
like to call someone to help.
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Sometimes being angry can open doors, if you ask simple
questions such as “I can see that your angry, I’m sorry for
your anger, would you like to tell me about that?”
Make sure you keep in your role and acknowledge that we are
all human with feelings and emotions.
In regards to what happens after an interview, Cait says to
always fact check before you publish. It sounds obvious but if
you publish an article with the wrong information, it may cause
offence to the veteran you interviewed. Journalist Sharon
Mascall-Dare has created a great Anzac Day Media Style
Guide as part of her PHD, which covers interviewing veterans
in detail, this guide may come in handy if you are concerned
about military lingo and history.
Some of the ethical issues may be if the veteran zones out
and starts talking about something they may wish not to be
published. Even though they have agreed to an interview, they
may not realise that this information will be shared on a large
Sometimes it is best to send a copy to the veteran so that
facts can be checked and if there is something in there that
they wish not to share with the public, then they have the
ability to say so. Even better is if you can meet up over coffee
and discuss the article.
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Cait mentioned Story Corps, which is an American project that
aims to inspire people to record their story in sounds. Story
Corps is such a great initiative and the website has some
fantastic questions that can lead to amazing content.
All and all it was amazing to meet Cait and learn of the great
work she does at the DART centre, I can’t wait to pass on
these important tips to students involved in Celebrate Living
History internship program that’s for sure!
Cait McMahon, Melissa Haber and Bev Wilkinson at the ABC canteen