As student journalists we learn from our mistakes. Yet when it comes to covering covering crime or tragedy, we can't afford them. The stakes are too high.
Covering student deaths over the past three years, here's what I've learned:
- It's not enough that the victim is/was a student or faculty member. Go beyond surface reporting by establishing multiple campus connections.
- Never fake sincerity in an interview. You’re not an actor; you’re a journalist.
- It's okay to show emotion during an interview. However, no one wants to deal with a nutcase; check your emotional baggage.
- Know when to back off. Pushing victims for raw emotion doesn’t lead to better quotes; it only makes them hate you.
- Don't ask the victim's family about the gruesome details. Rely on other sources like EMTs, police officers or the medical examiner.
Attending the September Mid America Press Institute workshop on Interviewing, my eyes opened to the world of journalism and trauma.
The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma offers tips for interviewing victims and families and for covering disasters, tragic anniversaries, suicide, murder, and sexual and domestic violence. The site also created a section for journalism students and educators.
- Poynter Institute's tips on talking to victims.
- No Train, No Gain's observations on covering disasters.
- Obit Page's examples of great obituaries -- they aren't just death notices.