In the wake of the recent shooting in Arizona, the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma in the US has put together some resources for journalists and news managers covering the shooting.

They may be of local interest – to the media’s audiences as well as to its own.

Psychiatrist Frank Ochberg and Bruce Shapiro, the Centre’s executive director, share insights on the characteristics of mass killers and the ethical responsibilities of news organisations after a mass shooting.

Dave Cullen spent a decade researching and writing Columbine, his best-selling account of the 1999 school shooting in Littleton, Colorado. He has compiled some lessons for reporters covering high-profile mass shootings.

The Centre has also compiled insights from journalists, educators and newsroom managers who have participated in past Dart Center conferences and events on mass shootings.

A few Australians are quoted and their comments also have some relevance to the ongoing floods coverage.

Philip Williams, ABC, says:

I was sent alone to cover the Madrid Bombings in which 200 people were killed in a series of explosions set by terrorists in trains. Reporting for both radio and TV, the deadlines and demands were relentless.

For five days, I averaged one hour’s sleep a night. By the end of the assignment I was a physical and emotional wreck — the long hours combining with the harrowing interviews with survivors and the relatives of those killed.

On day five, my speech was beginning to slur and my thought processes were so slow I could barely function. In short, I was exhausted — and so was my capacity to work properly. If I’d just said I need a decent sleep to continue, I would have been able to stay on the job.

My mistake was I didn’t want to admit I needed a break. No doubt in the coming days editors will be demanding continuous coverage, but it is in both the organisation’s and your own interest to rest. If you don’t, something will give. Don’t stay out late, don’t overwork … get to bed. You’ll be a better reporter for a good nights sleep.

Trina McLellan, sub-editor, The Courier-Mail, says:

Take a moment to acknowledge the grief and the assistance of those who speak to the media in an official or unofficial capacity, especially in the early days. They, too, are under enormous duress as the circumstances unfold and may themselves still be in shock. When facts are unclear and/or dynamic, pushing these people harder rarely uncovers the truth but simply further exhausts these people who are trying to do their best in awful circumstances.


Meanwhile, other articles that may be of interest for those with an interest in gun control

• This ProPublica piece explains (if this is really possible) gun laws in the US.

• And this is an alarming headline from The Huffington Post: “Sales In Glock Pistols Up After Arizona Shootings”.

The article says:

One-day sales of handguns in Arizona jumped 60 percent on Jan. 10 compared with the corresponding Monday a year ago, the second-biggest increase of any state in the country, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation data. From a year earlier, handgun sales ticked up yesterday 65 percent in Ohio, 16 percent in California, 38 percent in Illinois and 33 percent in New York, the FBI data show, and increased nationally about 5 percent.

Federally tracked gun sales, which are drawn from sales in gun stores that require a federal background check, also jumped following the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, in which 32 people were killed.


Update, 17 Jan

Tips for covering the floods

The Dart Centre Australasia has released some tips specifically for Australian floods coverage. They include:

  • Above all, be accurate and do not feign compassion – it can’t be faked. Offer sincere condolences early on in considerate terms. Use a supportive phrase like “I’m sorry this happened to you,” rather than the more abrupt “How do you feel?” or the discordant “I know how you feel,” which will immediately lose your  credibility.
  • Remember that victims, survivors, their families and friends are struggling to regain control in their lives after a devastating experience. Allow them to have some say as to when, where and how they’re interviewed or photographed or filmed. Include them in any decisions you can – for instance, read back their quotes or replay raw tape; allow them to suggest which photos of a deceased or injured relative should be used.
  • Thoroughly check and re-check facts, names, times and places, because errors are painful to these individuals, families and their colleagues and cause unnecessary stress.
  • Remember that people you speak to in traumatic circumstances are rarely media-savvy. Try to explain the media process and how your story/picture/footage is likely to be used. Explain that the material may be reshaped prior to publication, or afterwards, or not used at all. Be honest if you know something is likely to run more than once.


And from the frontline…

Meanwhile, ABC reporter Lisa Millar, a Queenslander and a Dart Center Ochberg Fellow who has been covering the floods, also has some advice for reporters and news managers. A brief extract:

This is disastrous for those personally hit. It won’t be much fun, either, for the hundreds of reporters, camera operators and photographers who’ll be working around the clock to alert the rest of the world to this unfolding disaster.
It’s hard to tell loyal and dedicated reporters to take a break, but that’s going to have to happen very shortly. I know one reporter was asked to take a day off but refused, wanting to bat on until she dropped.

Proper food is vital, too. As managers, you can help by offering coordinated decision-making from headquarters. Chaos in the newsroom is one of the most stressful things for a crew on the road, facing long days, fraught technology and trauma at every corner.

Bosses will have to start getting tough when reporters and crews don’t see how exhausted they’ve become. 

Proper sleep and rest is critical for an ongoing story like this.

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