Tragedies & Journalists

Tips for writing about victims:
1. Focus on the person's life. Find out what made the person special: personality, beliefs, environment (surroundings, hobbies, family and friends), and likes and dislikes. Treat the person's life as carefully as a photographer does in framing a portrait.

2. Always be accurate. Check back with the victim or victim's representative to verify spellings of names, facts and even quotes. The reason: When you first talk to a victim, he or she may be confused or distracted. Double-checking can ensure accuracy. It also may provide you with additional information and quotes that you can use.

3. Use pertinent details that help describe victims as they lived or provide images of their lives. Example: "Johnny loved to play the guitar in the evening to entertain his family, but it also helped him escape the stress of his job as a sheriff's deputy."

4. Avoid unneeded gory details about the victims' deaths. After the Oklahoma City bombing, certain reporters chose not to reveal that body parts were dangling from the trees near the federal building. Ask yourself whether the images are pertinent or will do unnecessary harm to certain members of your readership or broadcast audience.

Also, avoid words and terms such as "closure," "will rest in peace" or "a shocked community mourns the death." Use simple and clear words as good writers do for any story.

5. Use quotes and anecdotes from the victim's relatives and friends to describe the person's life. Especially those that tell how the person had overcome obstacles. Seek current photos of the victim (but always return them as soon as possible). This way, you know what the person looked like in life.