Monday, May 10, 2010

Guidelines for Reporters

Sometimes reporters need to cover sensitive topics, such as a suicide, and there may be some confusion about how that topic should be covered. Once again, research can come to rescue, if you know where to look.

Chances are, if you are faced with an ethical dilemma about how to cover a story, another reporter has faced a similar situation. Other newspapers' standards and policies for reporting can be a guide and journalism organizations, such as the Society for Professional Journalists, may also have ethical guidelines.

Also, foundations or research institutes may have guidelines as well. In a previous life I worked for Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania on a project that focused on improving news coverage of suicides. Previous research had indicated that many news reporters didn't realize (or didn't want to believe) that how they covered suicides (the wording that they used and the pictures that they showed) could impact whether or not "copycat" suicides would later be attempted. We worked with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to create and disseminate media guidelines for suicide coverage that reflected the research. One thing to keep in mind when turning to interest groups for guidelines is to make sure that they are grounded in sound research and not just a ploy to get favorable media coverage.