Reporting Traumatic Events
Steven Gorelick, professor of media studies, Hunter College:
Be very careful about the experts you select as sources. These kinds of high-profile stories are magnets for everyone from legitimate scholars and practitioners to self-proclaimed “profilers.”
Serious experts are almost always quick to admit that there is no easy explanation for why and how something happened, especially before even the most basic information is released. Beware of the expert source who is just dying to be helpful. And perk up your ears when someone tells you: “I really need to get more information before I have anything useful to say.”
Scott Wallace, freelance journalist:
Despite the fact that we are all on deadline, you must take the time to breathe, empathize and feel the pain of survivors and loved ones whom you interview and come in contact with…
…Above all, forget trying to “scoop” your colleagues on this story. A spirit of cooperation should reign among the reporters, photographers and producers on a story like this. It may be useful to work in tandem with a colleague or two from some other media outlet, sharing the material and the experience of the interview rather than putting the same subject through it multiple times.
Lena Jakobsson, television producer:
Chasing victims’ family members down the street seems like a far more reasonable idea if CNN and MSNBC and FOX and all the nets are doing it, too, and you’re about to get yelled at if you don’t get that video. But you always have at least a few seconds to stop and listen to what your gut is telling you. Ratings come and go. The impact on your integrity, and on the people you’re covering — that stays.
Al Tompkins, Poynter
Clearly tell the public what you know and what you do not know. With a story like this — one that changes by the hour — do not assume the public is up to date…
…Acknowledge the emotional impact of the tragedy. Online conversations about the bombings, especially Twitter, have been loaded with people who are in distress, wondering what has become of humankind. Don’t underestimate that feeling. Spend some time and space honoring the good people who performed selfless acts in a time of crisis and beyond. Work with your local crisis lines, counselors and clergy, and stay in touch with the pulse of what they are hearing.
Dave Weigel, Slate:
In a situation like this, political reporters should probably make a quiet, temporary exit from the scene. There will be political angles in the reaction to this story, because this sort of nightmare knocks everything else out of the news cycle. Gosnell? Manchin-Toomey? Immigration? They’re in the middle of the paper if they’re anywhere. They’re paused, as is any speculation about the motivation for the attack. Who has ever speculated about that and not gone on to total, moronic infamy?
Jeremy Stahl, Slate
[D]on’t use a tragedy to make a political point before the facts are even known. Shortly after the attacks, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof tweeted this inanity: “explosion is a reminder that ATF needs a director. Shame on Senate Republicans for blocking apptment.” Probably realizing how his snarkiness sounded under the circumstances, Kristof quickly deleted the tweet and called it a “low blow.” On the right, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin sent out this doozy, comparing the national media’s coverage of Boston to its alleged non-coverage of the Kermit Gosnell abortion case.
Image: A man after the explosions at the Boston Marathon, via Boston.com/AP.