Best Practices in Trauma Reporting

How often have you remembered reading a really good story that didn’t have a satisfying resolution and asked, “I wonder what ever became of that person?” or “I wonder whether that case was ever solved?” Readers often ask themselves these same questions. Some Dart Award winners have had follow-up stories to give their readers an update.

In “Who Killed John McCloskey?” (2000), the main story ran in The Roanoke Times from June 13 to 18, 1999. The question asked in the story’s headline was never answered, even at the conclusion of the article. After sticking with the story for almost a week, readers might have felt somewhat deflated to read on the last day of the series that the “state police investigation is now closed. Unsolved, and no arrests.” Same for the federal inquiry. The story concluded with theories and questions, but no answers. “Faced with the failure of all official investigations, the McCloskeys have been left to find the truth for themselves.”

End of story. But what happened?

Approximately six months later, on December 12, 1999, another story appeared in the same newspaper. Titled, “In Pursuit of the Truth,” the article still provided no definitive answers but offered an update. “The case remains steeped in murkiness,” the article says, “but new evidence has surfaced that adds credibility to the McCloskeys’ claim that the mental hospital is responsible for their son’s death…” The article then went on to review the new evidence and offer informed speculation. In a sense, the newspaper was letting readers know they hadn’t dropped the case. It was still trying to answer the question it had posed six months earlier: Who killed John McCloskey?

Updates allow readers to “check in” on people they have come to know – in a sense – through the power of journalism.

In “Legacy of Love & Pain” (2003), Angela Hudson went through a harrowing recovery process after being severely burned by her ex-husband. The main article, which ran on February 24, 2002, ended with Hudson at home “working on little things: washing dishes, folding clothes, eating and dressing herself, as much as her mobility allows.” Her own words punctuate the final line in the article: “I pray real hard to be a mother again.”

A month later, journalist Daniel J. Vargas visits Angela at home again. Things seem be getting back to normal. Angela is washing dishes. A cordless phone rings, and Angela’s daughter Angel rushes to answer it. Like many teens would do, the girl rushes out of earshot from the adults so she can “gab with her friend.” Despite her severe trauma and disfigurement, Angela seems to be getting her life back to normal. Vargas writes: “Miracles, this family says, have a way of happening.” In the next paragraph: “Hudson is a mother again, just what she prayed for night after night during her recovery.” Angela has moved back to the public-housing community where the attack took place. She is quoted as saying, “You have to learn to deal with it. If I couldn’t deal with it, I couldn’t move on with my life. I had to learn to let it go.” Her ex-husband was convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced to life in prison. Angela’s daughter, Angel, testified in court about what happened on the day her mother was attacked. Vargas writes: “When the defense cross-examined her, she stood by her answers and recollections, unwavering.” The final words in the article are another quote from Angela: “We’re a family again.”