Document Type

Honors Thesis




Caroline Bicks

Committee Members

Mark Brewer, Gregory Howard, Naomi Jacobs, Michael Socolow

Graduation Year

May 2021

Publication Date

Spring 5-2021


Due to their relevance and emotional draw for readers, stories of tragedy and suffering are a nearly inescapable aspect of journalism. However, the routine reporting and formulaic styles associated with coverage of these events has contributed to audience compassion fatigue. Studies have been done on the success of some journalists who have historically pushed the boundaries of style and deployed literary strategies to elicit emotion and subvert compassion fatigue in their reporting. However, there is more room in the scholarship on this subject for studies of the specific strategies that contemporary literary journalism writers use and how they adapt them to the nuances of their subjects.Through the application of literary analysis informed by concepts from journalism studies and literary trauma theory, this study examines popular and critically acclaimed works of contemporary American literary journalism by Dave Cullen, Dexter Filkins, and Rachel Kaadzi Ghansahto understand how these writers are rhetorically putting their own experiences as witnesses in conversation with the experiences of their traumatized subjects. This study’s findings suggest that by telling these stories using subjective and reflexive narrative styles like those deployed by the three authors under examination, journalists across media may not only engage audiences more effectively, but also convey more nuanced, and perhaps more ethical, portraits of trauma.