EIJ 2016: Covering mass shootings, wrongful convictions and making a murderer

By Ally Pruitt

How often do we hear reporters say things like “31 shot, 10 murdered”? or “The shooter is still on the loose and police are on the hunt?” Unfortunately, murder, mass shootings and convictions, whether wrongful or purposeful, are prevalent in today’s news.

The Excellence in Journalism Conference, held in New Orleans, acknowledged these issues and held three sessions on these hard to cover subjects that I was lucky enough to attend.

Each session touched on a different aspect of the news and crime. The first session was “How Well Does the Media Cover Mass Murders?” The second, “How to Investigate Potentially Wrongful Convictions and Other Criminal Justice Issues?” And the third, “Making a Murderer- And Covering Him”.

Here are ten tips to keep in mind when covering tough subjects like these!

  • Try your best to keep multiple photos of the shooter out of the media. To many, the publicity is motivation to commit these horrific crimes.
  • Focus as best you can on the victims. Include their stories, display their photos, and try your best to make them the soul focus of the story.
  • Be a human. Stay sensitive to the people involved in such a horrific event. Do not park your car outside of their property in hopes for an interview. Respect the fact that they are grieving.
  • Study false convictions and highlight red flags within cases.
  • Push for independent third parties to conduct DNA testing to keep the case completely unbiased.
  • Remember that in order to be involved with the Innocence Project, the accused must be factually innocent, which means not present at the scene of the crime.
  • Expect many legal obstacles when it comes to getting a case back into court and prepare yourself for a process that may take years to complete
  • Keep your opinion on any ongoing murder trial out of any coverage you do.
  • Bring a different perspective to the case if you cannot be right there at the crime scene or in the court house.
  • Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Do not forget to keep that within your story when you report on crime.

All of these tips were given by professional reporters who have covered big issues such as the Colorado shootings, Lafayette shootings, the Steven Avery case, and multiple wrongful convictions all over the country.

Keep these in mind whenever a big story like this comes your way in order to be a successful reporter on tough subjects!

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