Best Practices in Trauma Reporting

Reporting about victims of violence is not a quick and easy process if it is to be done well. You need to get to know the subject matter, the people, the places, the nuances. Many Dart Award winners were a series of articles that took months to research. As mentioned in an earlier section, Portland Press Herald reporter Barbara Walsh spent “hundreds of hours” with her subject, Yong Jones, so that Walsh could tell Jones’ story from start to finish. Of course not all stories will require this much time, but they will take far more time to write than a “just the facts,” hard news story.

Star-Ledger staff writer Matthew Reilly followed the story of Viktor Matthey for a year and conducted more than 200 interviews before writing “The Short Life of Viktor Alexander Matthey” (2002). He and photographer Saed Hindash also traveled to Moscow and elsewhere in Eastern Europe to do further research.

The best practices evidence shows that trauma reporting – especially during the Act Two stage – requires considerable time, motivation and resources. Of course, not all news organizations and journalists have the time, motivation and resources to devote to a single story, at least not to the extent that some of the Dart Award-winning articles have received. Journalists have to work within their personal and organizational limitations.

Although most of the Dart Award-winning articles are Act Two stories, the journalists who cover tragedies immediately after they occur, generating Act One articles, frequently do commendable work under tremendous pressure and expectations. These journalists – the first responders to acts of terrorism, shootings, assaults, car crashes and other tragic events – have to jump right into a volatile situation and get the story, using only the time it takes them to get from home or office to the scene of the tragedy to prepare for what they are going to say or do.

Spend as much time and energy as possible to make a story about trauma worthy of publication. Your particular circumstances may not allow for a year-long investigation, international travel and hundreds of hours of interviews, but it might allow for a genuine and meaningful connection with a few key interview subjects and few hours to really try and understand the culture in which they live and work. Do what you can with what you have.