November 18, 2004

TIME OUT: Covering Campus Tragedy

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:
  1. It's not enough that the victim is/was a student or faculty member. Go beyond surface reporting by establishing multiple campus connections.
  2. Never fake sincerity in an interview. You’re not an actor; you’re a journalist.
  3. It's okay to show emotion during an interview. However, no one wants to deal with a nutcase; check your emotional baggage.
  4. Know when to back off. Pushing victims for raw emotion doesn’t lead to better quotes; it only makes them hate you.
  5. 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.

Other resources:

November 15, 2004

TIME OUT: Saying 'Thank you'

I forgot the anniversary of my mother’s death.
Attending a student journalism conference in Nashville, I simply forgot the day. A week passed before I remembered it today. I skipped class and resumed my ritual of taking a rose for each year of my life to her grave.
Entering the flower shop, I selected a dozen silky pink roses. Reaching for a second dozen of crisp white roses, I recalled I was 24 when she died. Picking up another dozen of velvety red roses, I realized at 36, I’ve lived a third of my life without my mother.
As student journalists, we constantly push away family and friends. Deadlines, homework and our other jobs make us push. Soon those supporting us no longer register as a priority. For a profession focused on communication, we have terrible personal communications skills.
Write a thank you note to someone you’ve neglected this semester. Thank them for their love and support. Getting the story doesn’t make up for constantly missing birthdays, holidays or anniversaries. Having loved ones celebrate our accomplishments means sharing in theirs.
... and call your mother.

November 11, 2004

TIME OUT: Difficult Conversations

I hoped this first post would demonstrate the newscoaching ideal. I hoped wisdom would emanate from me the way the holy spirit emanates from saints pictured on religious candles.
Instead, thanks to an awkward but necessary ed board meeting, I've decided to focus on difficult newsroom conversations with help from two of my favorite coaching resources.
Newsroom management guru, Edward Miller, penned several essays on this including, "Opening a Difficult Conversation," "Listening to Complaints" and "Tips for Difficult Conversations."
Steve Buttry, writing coach, Omaha World-Herald, writes a coaching blog for professional newscoaches. His June 21 posting demonstrates how working with new reporters requires trust and responsibility, not just on their part, but on ours.