This week I had to cover a tragic incident where a deputy was shot and killed on a routine traffic stop. This was my first time in my journalism career to cover a tragic death. I was at the crime scene from the beginning starting at 7:30 till the investigators were done with the scene at 6. I spoke with officers who lost a friend and one of their own to other in the community who knew the deputy. It was a long day full of emotions on all ends, but I learned a lot through this experience dealing with the emotions as well as reporting the facts. It was very eye opening so I though I would write some things I learned while on the story.
Stay Professional While Reporting the Facts
It can be difficult for news reporters to respond to mass violence in their own town.
There comes a point that reporters have to do their jobs, just like police, firefighters, and rescuers. The difference is, those professions usually train workers on crisis management. Journalists have to figure it out on their own while facing enormous deadline pressure to get the story.
Journalists should remind themselves of the importance of their work during these situations. There will be time to grieve, but at the moment, your area is counting on you.
Be Wary of Rumors and Speculation
It won't be long after tragedy strikes for people to start spreading rumors, lies, and other misinformation.
Resist the urge to report any of it until you check for accuracy. You'll also see immediate speculation on why the crime happened and who did it. Don't let your rush to be first with information sink your story with misinformation.
Show Compassion for Everyone Involved
A reporter who's frustrated that information isn't coming quickly from police should also remember the burdens that investigators face. They have to see the bodies. They have to tell victims' families about what happened.
They have to try to make sense of a senseless act of violence. Appeasing a reporter's demands may not be a priority.
Talking to the family who lost a loved one can also be a hard thing for a reporter. If you are asked to go try to talk to the family a reporter must have compassion first. the best thing to do is go to the family offer your condolences, give space when needed and bring a business card if they do want to talk about their loved one later down the road. Whatever you do do not push. Treat the family like your own.
Avoid Getting Caught Up in the Blame Game
It's only natural for a community to make the transition from shock to grief to anger once the news of a tragedy sets in. That anger will result in a desire to blame someone for what happened. Give investigators reasonable time to handle the situation and gather information that will answer their own questions, which are likely the same as yours.
Give Yourself Time to Cope with the Crisis
It's okay for news reporters to have the same emotions as anyone else. We're supposed to be human and not Superman or Superwoman. Learning how to handle professional and personal stress will be a lasting skill any reporter needs to learn.
There will probably be a point when you wish the story would simply go away so you could get back to your normal routine of covering city council meetings and ribbon cuttings. You've undoubtedly had to work long hours covering the saddest story of your career.
Eat right, get sleep and talk to your colleagues in the newsroom about your feelings. It's not a sign of weakness or that you're not tough enough to make it in the news business. It shows you care about people and your town, which are admirable qualities for any journalist.