Reporting Death in a post-Leveson Climate: Tip Sheet

A tip sheet generated following a Dart Center seminar which explored whether there can be value in the journalistic “death knock.”

The Dart Centre has a range of resources on trauma reporting, including youth violence, suicide, mass killings and sexual violence. The tips below are not a complete guide to approaching a family or friends following a death, but are examples of some of the advice that came out of the seminar.

  • Prepare before approaching the family, which includes finding out if the family have asked not to be contacted (i.e., ask the Press Complaints Commission, the police or any other relevant individuals or organisations).
  • Think about the language you might use and keep it measured and empathetic: never say you know how they feel – you don’t. Instead, you could say, “I appreciate how difficult this is for you.” 
  • Don’t trivialise the circumstances, but equally don’t exaggerate them. 
  • Be honest and up front. If you are not writing a tribute to the deceased, do not pretend you are. Give the interviewee information about the piece you are planning. 
  • Adapt your approach depending on the circumstances: perhaps the person wants you to listen at length, but they may prefer to only tell you the details necessary for your piece.  
  • Make sure that you have informed consent to interview a bereaved person and if they ask you not to contact them again, respect their wishes. 
  • Don’t assume each bereaving family, or even members within the same group or family, is the same: they may not see the purpose of media coverage, or wish to keep their grief private.  
  • Be sensitive and considered in your use of social media and seek to obtain permission or obtain information from the family and friends directly.
  • Be accurate and careful in your report. Check details like spellings of names.