Best Practices in Trauma Reporting

Warn readers about graphic content rather than surprise them. Give them an opportunity to choose not to read the article or view the images, or to protect their children from viewing them.

When the Long Beach Press-Telegram ran, “The Path of a Bullet” (1997), which contained some graphic violent images and text, the newspaper warned its readers what to expect, giving them a choice about whether and how to proceed. The following text is an excerpt from the cautionary note:

The purpose of the report is to educate. Before you look inside, you should be aware that it contains graphic photographs and descriptions which some readers may find troubling. Some may believe the report is too harsh for children to view. We want to let you know about the content of the report in advance so that you can take whatever steps you believe are appropriate.

An explanation like this shows respect to readers by letting them know why the newspaper chose to publish such images. The cautionary note can also clear up misunderstandings ahead of time with audience members who might otherwise assume that the photographs simply reflected gratuitous violence for sensational purposes.