Breaking News Stories
Covering Specific Victim Populations
Other Considerations
Special Challenges in Reporting
Special Challenges in Reporting
High Impact Stories
Working With Service Providers
Creating Ethics Policy
Victims Right to Privacy
Self Care for Journalists
Resources and Promising Practices
Glossary and Endnotes

Link to A News Media Guide for Victim Service Providers
Link to Crime Victim Outreach Tip Sheets



Breaking News Stories

a. Asking for the interview
i. Minimize distractions
ii. Identify yourself as a reporter
iii. Acknowledge the victims' experience
iv. Giving the victim a reason to speak to you
v. Tell the person how much time you need
vi. Take "no" for an answer
vii. Leave a business card
viii. Ask for names of alternative spokespersons
b. Dealing with logistics
i. Make the person as comfortable as possible
ii. Ask permission to record the interview
iii. Come prepared
iv. Establishing ground rules
c. Conducting the interview
i. Recognize how trauma affects perceptions about time
ii. Avoid leading questions
iii. Avoid questions that imply blame
iv. Avoid loaded words and phrases
v. Eliciting emotion on camera
vi. Going live
vii. Ending the interview
viii. Thank the Victim
ix. Provide contact information for yourself or your editor

Reporter Guidelines for Act I (Breaking News) Stories

Most of the complaints from victims about reporters involve Act I/breaking news stories. Reporters are rushing to meet deadlines and struggling to get the facts of a story that may still be unfolding. Victims are often still in shock, unaware of the pitfalls of speaking and staying silent. Unless journalists exercise special care, the situation can become the proverbial recipe for disaster.

"Police Line Do Not Cross" tape staged scene with professional models. Reporters need to understand the specific challenges that victims face in being the subject of an Act I story. While individuals vary in their response to trauma, only a handful of victims are likely to be both composed enough and eager to speak to the media immediately after being victimized. Victims often need time to recover from the initial shock of what has happened to them before they can accurately and fully report the facts and their feelings about them to others. The physical and emotional shock of victimization can literally leave victims “speechless” when trauma disrupts the normal blood flow to the speech centers of the brain.

Reporters also need to understand that trauma inflicts a toll even when there is no physical injury. In the case of intimate crimes such as sexual assault, rape, and domestic violence, the resulting trauma is often complicated and amplified by numerous factors, ranging from the fear of being named in news accounts to the potential for self-blame to concerns about the stigma still associated with such crimes.

With those realities in mind, reporters need to approach victims appropriately and sensitively. News organizations often worry that raising victim concerns with their reporters and editors will make them less effective because they will hesitate or pull back from approaching and reporting on victims in trauma. The reality, however, is that reporters and editors who understand the dynamics of victimization and trauma get better stories because more victims will talk with them and talk openly.

Reporters should learn as much as they can about traumatic stress and its impact on the victims whom they interview, as well as on themselves (see “Self Care for Journalists” in this Section). Increased awareness about the immediate-, short-, and long-term impact of trauma will improve reporters’ sensitivity, interviewing skills, and their ability to address the vicarious trauma that often results from ongoing exposure to traumatic events.

Multiple television cameramen. (Staged with Professional Models).Asking for the interview. For reporters under deadline, the first challenge is to persuade victims to talk to them. The challenge is even greater for television reporters because they want visuals for their stories and victims can be intimidated by the equipment, or they may not want others to see them in their current condition. To be ethical and effective in securing an interview, reporters should:

Man looking at wristwatch. Staged scene with professional model.


Dealing with logistics. The more that you can put the victim at ease, the better the interview.

Box of tissues with tissues crumpled near the box.

  • Establishing ground rules. Even people who are sophisticated about the media may become confused about conventions such as “off the record” in the aftermath of victimization. Explain to victims that anything they say may be included in the interview. If they want to tell you something that should not be included in the interview, give them the power to turn off the tape recorder or ask for the video camera to be turned off.
  • Conducting the interview. The goal again is to put victims at ease and help them share what they know.

    Counselor comforting a crying woman (Staged with professional models.)

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