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I believe ethical reporting about victims and trauma should be incorporated into courses across the curriculum, from newsgathering and media ethics to global journalism and race, gender and media. I use case studies from Covering Violence: A Guide to Ethical Reporting About Victims & Trauma, by Roger Simpson and William Cote, along with coverage of current events to accomplish this.
For my media ethics class, I use the following two-part assignment, using Covering Violence and the Dart Center website, early in the semester. Part 1: Review the book. Part 2: Present a summary of a self-study unit on the Dart Center website.
These guidelines are not meant to limit creativity, but if each student uses this framework for analyzing this book, our discussions on trauma issues are more likely to be focused and productive. The review should address the following questions:
Sign on to the Dart Center website and click on the “Educators” gateway. Under “Distance Learning” you can see four study units: "Journalism & Trauma"; "Covering Terrorism"; "Photography and Trauma", and "The First 24 Hours."
Choose one of these self-study units and do the following: write a summary of each segment of the unit. For instance, under terrorism, there is a section titled, “What is terrorism?” You would read that and summarize the most important information and then repeat the process for each of the following components of the unit you choose to review.
This part of the assignment should be no more than three double-spaced pages. We will discuss these in class.
I have found students to be very receptive to these assignments, because they ask them to engage with the real world of journalism. After completing these assignments, I notice that they begin watching local, national and international media coverage of victims, trauma and violence with a far more critical eye and often bring examples into class for discussion. This is especially valuable early in the semester, as it establishes a class dynamic in which students actively apply concepts from the literature on journalism and trauma to other issues in the course.
When children are victims of violence, journalists have a responsibility to report the truth with compassion and sensitivity.
A 40-page guide to help journalists, photojournalists and editors report on violence while protecting both victims and themselves. Click here for a Ukrainian translation.
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The Dart Center is a project of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.