Victim Media Advocacy:
How to Facilitate Sensitive and Respectful Treatment of Crime Victims
a. Act I: Breaking News
b. Act II: Feature Stories
c. Act III: High-Impact Stories
Victims are clearly affected by the way that the media report on crime and victimization. Individual victims who become the subject of crime tend to fall into three broad categories, each with its own dynamic and concerns:
a. Act I: Breaking News—The reporters who cover breaking news, whether for print or broadcast, are under pressure to gather accurate information under deadline from a number of different sources. In many cases, the crime has just occurred and victims and witnesses are literally in shock, trying to assimilate what has just happened to them. Other stories where reporters often seek comments from victims involve breaking news that occurs during trials, especially when verdicts are announced. While the main focus is often on the perpetrator, victims and their family and friends may also be asked for interviews when convicted defendants are considered for probation or parole, when they are released, when they are executed, or when they escape from jail or prison.
b. Act II: Feature Stories—Victims can be asked for interviews for follow-up features and profiles. For these stories, newspaper, magazine, broadcast, and online reporters want facts, but they also want to capture the victim’s feelings, emotions, and opinions, as well as details about the interview subject’s appearance, expressions, and environment. Many features are anniversary stories, such as the first-, 5-, and 10-year stories of the victims of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. There are also continuing mysteries, such as unresolved disappearances and cases where the perpetrator has not been identified or caught. In most cases, the reporter has more time to prepare for and conduct the interview than when reporting breaking news.
c. Act III: High-Impact Stories—These stories go beyond traditional crime coverage to explore the social, political, economic, or cultural impact of crime and victimization, or they do an exceptional job of giving victims a voice. These are the exceptional stories that break the mold, making readers and viewers pause to reflect on the reality and impact of crime and victimization in our culture. Such stories are often “enterprise” stories, which means they involve significant planning by a team of reporters and editors. They are often longer stories and many times they run as a series. For Act III stories, victims are often asked to give lengthy interviews or multiple interviews over time.
Each “act” of crime coverage poses a different set of challenges for victims, their families and friends, and the victim service providers and service providers who work with them—and for the reporters, photographers, videographers, and editors who cover them. Section 1 of this guide offers detailed suggestions for how to meet these challenges. In addition, the Guide for Journalists Who Report on Crime and Crime Victims offers information, insights, and tips that reporters need to deal with the opportunities and constraints for each of the “three acts” of crime coverage.