Dart Center hosts a most worthwhile journalism event

The name “Dart,” in the Cayman Islands, is synonymous with development, employment and (to many charitable causes) benevolence. In most of the rest of the world, “Dart” means foam (actually polystyrene) cups, or the billionaire family who manufactures them.

But in the rarified atmosphere of the upper echelons of journalism, “Dart” symbolizes excellence in reporting on traumatic events. Most people in Cayman probably are unaware of the existence of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at New York City’s prestigious Columbia Journalism School.

In 1991 (several years before the Darts launched their commercial development activities in Grand Cayman), the family’s Dart Foundation began funding a small program at Michigan State University, where journalism faculty aimed to help students report on “victims of violence with sensitivity, dignity and respect,” according to the organization’s website.

Over the years, the program has grown and evolved into the Dart Center, offering the well-known Dart Awards for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma, Ochberg Fellowships, as well as other educational and training opportunities.

On Tuesday, the Dart Center finally came to Cayman, in the form of a one-day conference at the Westin Grand Cayman. The “host” of the event was Dart Center Executive Director Bruce Shapiro, who brought along NPR News Southern Bureau Chief Russell D. Lewis as a special guest speaker. Rounding out the program were local experts from the public and private sectors.

The overarching topic of discussion, and the title of the program, was “Covering Trauma News in Cayman: Craft, Ethics & Self-Care.” Participants included representatives from Cayman’s news outlets across the media spectrum (who attended “free of charge” courtesy of Dart Enterprises), as well as other interested professionals.

The Compass was pleased to send several envoys from our newspaper. We spent the day learning from, listening and speaking to Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Lewis, and other speakers, as well as engaging in meaningful conversations and swapping the occasional “war story” with our professional colleagues. As was pointed out during one of the panel discussions, it is a rare (if not unprecedented) event to have so many local journalists in the same room as a captive audience for local experts, with subjects such as mental health on the agenda.

The journalism conference proved to be not only noteworthy – but also newsworthy. The discussions led to a story, on Page One of Wednesday’s Compass, where Cayman psychiatrist Dr. Marc Lockhart said that more than 4,000 individuals – perhaps even 5,000 – in our country sought access to mental health services in 2013.

The prevalence of mental illness in Cayman and, as Dr. Lockhart pointed out, the overlap with the distinct, but related, issue of drug abuse, are phenomena about which our country should be more aware, and on which we should be focusing a variety of resources – including journalistic ones.

Tuesday’s conference was a much-appreciated opportunity for our news professionals to hone our approach to covering traumatic events and the people they affect. We are optimistic that the information gleaned from the event, and the relationships forged during the day, will lead to more and better stories that are meaningful to our community.

We thank the Dart Group for their hospitality, Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Lewis for their insights, and the local speakers for their time and expertise. We hope to see you all again soon, and often.