Reporter Guidelines for Act III Stories
Despite the constraints and challenges inherent in reporting on crime and victimization, many news organizations succeed in providing the public exceptional stories that can help people understand crime, victimization, and crime policy or that give victims an opportunity to tell their stories. Without overstating the case, a news organization’s reputation can rest, at least in part, on how its reporters treat crime victims and the issues that matter to them. Maintaining a good relationship with victims, their families and friends, as well as victim advocates and service providers, can enhance a news organization’s standing in the community.
The Dart Award for Excellence in Reporting on Victims of Violence recognizes the best newspaper article or series of articles on a victim or victims of violence each year. The winning stories have tackled difficult subjects, from incest to domestic violence to the mass murder at Oklahoma City in 1995. In addition to giving victims a voice, the $10,000 prize has also been awarded to publications that entered Act III stories that provided social, political, economic, or cultural context that allowed readers to understand the impact of crime and victimization. A 1996 series called “Path of a Bullet” that appeared in the Long Beach Press-Telegram informed readers that the death of a young man who belonged to a gang cost the community close to $2 million in tax dollars for the law enforcement and court costs associated with the crime http://www.dartcenter.org/dartaward/1997/winner/01.html. The Detroit Free Press won the award in 2005 for “Homicide in Detroit: Echoes of Violence,” a six-part series that looked at the impact murders have on the victims, their families, the police, and the community: http://www.dartcenter.org/dartaward/2005/winner/01.html
Particularly in this era when news organizations find themselves under increasing economic pressure, it can be difficult for them to free up reporters, photographers and videographers, columnists, and editors to spend the time required to produce major stories and series like these, which often took months and even years of effort.
Quality journalism plays a unique role in our culture. It is the mission and responsibility of news organizations to gather and report the information that citizens need to make informed and wise decisions about how we will govern ourselves. The daily episodic coverage of crime provides a service, by warning us of continuing threats and providing a portrait of crime in the community. However, news organizations should be encouraged and supported in devoting the resources necessary to produce Act III stories that deepen our understanding of the dynamics of crime and the price crime exacts on victims.