i. Criminal Justice Journalists
ii. Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma (University of Washington)
iii. Poynter Institute
iv. Victims and the Media Program, Michigan State University School of Journalism
v. Victims and the Media Program Professional Workshop: Reporting on Crime Victims
b. Promising Practices
i. Victims and the Media Forums
ii. Reporting on Crime Victims: Work Shop Curriculum
Criminal Justice Journalists
Criminal Justice Journalists is a national membership organization of journalists who cover crime, court, and prison beats. Affiliated with the Jerry Lee Center of Criminology of the University of Pennsylvania, CJJ participates in conferences and develops resource materials for journalists who cover crime.
Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, University of Washington
The Dart Center advocates ethical and thorough reporting of trauma; educates journalists about the psychology of trauma and news implications; and serves as a forum for journalists to analyze issues, exchange ideas, advance strategies related to reporting on violence and catastrophes, and foster peer support. Each year, the Dart Center presents the Dart Award for Excellence in Reporting on Victims of Violence to radio and newspaper pieces that sensitively and comprehensively illustrate the compound effects of violence on victims’ lives. The Dart Society, consisting of journalists who have received Dart fellowships or awards, promotes sensitive coverage of victims and provides support to journalists affected by covering victimization’s effects.
The Poynter Institute is a school dedicated to teaching and inspiring journalists and media leaders. Poynter offers seminars, courses, and workshops at its St. Petersburg, Florida, headquarters; cosponsors national writers’ workshops across the country; hosts a toll free hotline for ethical questions; and offers numerous resources through its Web site. In 2005, Poynter launched News University (http://www.newsu.org/), an online resource that provides interactive, inexpensive courses to journalists from all experience levels and media backgrounds.
Victims and the Media Program, Michigan State University School of Journalism
This program teaches journalism students to report on victims of violence and catastrophe with the sensitivity, dignity, and respect that victims deserve. Since its establishment in 1991, the program has held conferences, created videotapes, and developed curricula. It helps victim advocates work as “facilitators and buffers” between victims and the media, and helps journalists deal with the stress and trauma associated with covering victimization’s effects.
As noted above, the Victims and the Media Program guarantees that all of its graduates will receive special training in reporting on victims of violence and catastrophe. In the introductory reporting classes, students receive advice on how to handle Act I, Act II, and Act III stories, using lecture, current-event examples, video clips, and role-play exercises. In the advanced reporting classes, the instructor conducts a refresher on information and advice learned previously. Then a victim volunteer tells his or her story and the students interview the person and then write a brief story. If time permits, the victim critiques the students’ stories.
The program also offers specialized instruction for broadcast classes, audio and video, which address the special concerns that victims have about broadcast coverage. In the ethics class, the instructor presents students with real-world case studies, in which reporters and editors face ethical dilemmas related to victims. The students are asked to make a decision (quickly) and explain how and why they made their determination.
MSU journalism majors receive at least 6 hours of instruction (and as many as 9 or 10). Appendix A features an outline that adapts the MSU curriculum to a 2-hour workshop for professionals. It is based on using much of the information and advice offered in this guide.
When all key “players” involved with the news media coverage of crime and victimization have an understanding of their mutual concerns and unique perspectives, sensitive coverage of crime victims is a likely outcome. In the past, many communities have sponsored 1-day forums and symposia that address these issues and engage journalists, victim advocates, justice professionals, mental health and allied professionals, and victims/survivors as speakers and participants.
As evidenced by the content of this guide, there are many topics that can be addressed in a “Victims and the Media” forum. In a 1-day, 6-hour session, key issues can include—
- An opening panel of victims/survivors speaking about their personal experiences with the media—both positive and negative.
- The viewpoint of journalists regarding what the public needs to know about crime and victimization.
- Perspectives of justice professionals who must maintain the integrity of a case while, at the same time, provide information to the media that is relevant to the public.
- An explanation of the role of victim advocates as both facilitators for victim interviews, and as sources for reliable information about crime and victimization.
It’s also helpful to provide a venue for roundtable discussions that mixes participants with different perspectives, in order to promote informative discussions about critical issues and concerns.
The Victims and the Media Program at Michigan State University’s School of Journalism guarantees that all of its graduates will receive special training in reporting on victims of violence and catastrophe. In the introductory reporting classes, students receive advice on how to handle Act I, Act II, and Act III stories, using lecture, current-event examples, video clips, and role-play exercises.
In the advanced reporting classes, the instructor conducts a refresher on information and advice learned previously. Then a victim volunteer tells his or her story and the students interview the person and then write a brief story. If time permits, the victim critiques the students’ stories.
The program also offers specialized instruction for broadcast classes, audio and video, that address the special concerns that victims have about broadcast coverage. In the ethics class, the instructor presents students with real-world case studies, where reporters and editors face ethical dilemmas related to victims. The students are asked to make a decision (quickly) and explain how and why they made their determination.
Michigan State University journalism majors receive at least 6 hours of instruction (and as many as 9 or 10). The following is an outline that adapts the curriculum to a 2-hour workshop for professionals. It is based on using much of the information and advice offered above.
PROFESSIONAL WORKSHOP: Reporting on Crime Victims
Instructors: It makes sense to select a journalism instructor who understands and appreciates reporters and victims. The instructor should be partnered with a victim of criminal violence whose story has been covered by the media. MSU requires that in-class victim volunteers must provide assurances that they are ready and willing to handle the assignment. The program typically refuses to consider victims whose trauma occurred less than 2 years ago.
Preparation: Before the training, the instructor should identify counseling opportunities available locally and make arrangements to send participants there if anyone needs help during or after the workshop.
Learning Objectives: Participants who complete the workshop will—
Gain insight into how reporting on crime and victimization affects victims.
- Understand what trauma does to a person’s physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
Learn tips and techniques on reporting Act I, Act II, and Act III stories without rev-victimizing victims.
- Gain experience in interviewing a victim in a controlled setting where there is not fear of inflicting harm, as preparation for interviewing victims for real stories.
Understand the dangers of secondary victimization and learn ways to cope with the trauma and stress involved in reporting on crime and crime victims.
Introductions and Ground Rules (15 minutes): Participants are asked to introduce themselves. The instructor then acknowledges that the training will be dealing with difficult and sometimes disturbing content. If anyone finds the material too upsetting, they should feel free to take a break; however, one of the instructors will accompany the person out of the room to offer help.
Participants will be asked to develop their own Code of Conduct for the training. One benefit of the exercise is that it reinforces the importance of treating people with sensitivity, courtesy, and respect. The instructor should also reinforce the importance of granting others a measure of goodwill. We can all misspeak or say something inadvertently hurtful, but the ground rules should reflect that people should grant others an opportunity to explain or apologize.
- Current Events (15 minutes): Participants are asked to offer examples of media coverage of crime and crime victims during the past 6 months, including print, broadcast, or online. The participant should give a brief explanation of the story, identify where and when it appeared and offer an analysis of how well it treated the victims involved. Participants can also share examples of their own work or ask questions about situations that they faced involving crime victims.
The Impact of Trauma (15 minutes): Provide an overview of the impact that trauma has on victims and the dangers of secondary victimization among journalists.
- Reporting on Act I Stories (30 minutes): Adapting the information and advice offered in this guide, the instructor engages participants in discussion about how to approach and interview crime victims who are the subject of breaking news. If time permits, the instructor can portray a victim of a crime in a role play. Allow the students 2 minutes to prepare questions, then give them no more than 5 minutes to ask questions. Debrief and assess their performance as a group.
- Reporting on Act II and Act III Stories (30 minutes): The instructor outlines the basics of reporting on Act II (feature) and Act III (high-impact) stories. The victim volunteer serves as the source for an Act II story that allows participants to apply what they are learning.
- Taking Care of Yourself (15 minutes): Each session should close with an interactive discussion about how reporters can take care of themselves. Close with a reiteration of the importance and personal satisfaction that comes from doing good work.