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Trauma Informed INterviewing
Trauma-informed interviewing prioritizes the emotional care of a person being interviewed, allowing them to have a comfortable space to share their pain and grief to a journalist. A journalist practicing this technique will center empathy and sensitivity.
Before the interview

Be open about your reporting intentions—focus on profiling what makes families and individuals special.

Tell the participant how much you can share before publishing, depending on your editor or news organization. You want to share as much as possible prior to publication in order for the participant to feel as in control as possible and to provide an accurate narrative.

If possible, let the participant choose where the interview will take place to have a predictable, comfortable environment. Try to give them an estimate on how long they'll be talking with you.

It's better to over-explain the process than not, so asking and re-asking for consent to publish their story is important. Let the participant know that they can pull out of the story at any time.

Who to reach out to

In the immediate aftermath of gun violence, reach out to community members and local public officials that know the situation but aren't close to the victim. 

Talking with teachers, friends, colleagues, or anyone close to the victim presents a victim as a real person and an integral part of the community. Be mindful that some people may not want to talk.

 

It's important to give the family some time before you talk with them. Some family members want to talk immediately after, while some need more time to process their trauma. If you do reach out, give them the option to contact you when they're ready to talk or follow up with them months later. 

Be sure not to perpetuate stereotypes and false narratives of the neighborhood and people involved. Law enforcement can be used to gather basic local information, but be wary of their perspectives, reports, and data.

Instead of quoting the police, reach out to healthcare workers that are treating the patient to check on them. Framing gun violence in a public health perspective is ideal. Learn more about this in our Glossary.

Be aware of community representatives who try to speak for the whole community as a monolith. Instead, distribute your coverage amongst various participants for a more even perspective.

DURING THE INTERVIEW

Slow down and keep the most challenging questions for later in the interview.

If the participant seems distressed, check in with them. Remind them they can take a break at any time. If the participant needs a break, don't try to stop them from feeling their emotions. Unless they told you otherwise, it's best to stay silent and wait for them. 

Reflect on what emotional state the person may be in. They just experienced a traumatic event, and their brain is still processing it. Vocalizing their story may be hard for them, so give them options to meet them where they're at:

  • Format the story around how best they can express their experiences. If they can't speak about it but can write it, then use that.

  • Consider initially putting away the notepad and equipment to listen to their story rather than immediately report it.

  • If you receive a harsh reaction, consider ending the story and allowing them space to recover. You can always contact them again at a later date.

What (and what not) to ask

Do ask them where they'd like to begin. The interview doesn't have to be linear, and the participant can include any information they see as important.

 

If they're in the condition to, ask them about who their loved one was. Showing who the victim was in their life spotlights their significance in their community and humanizes the story.

Don't ask anything immediately after a traumatizing event of gun violence. People are grieving, and you don't want to exploit that.

Don't ask any emotionally targeted questions like “How do you feel right now?” or “What would you say to the perpetrator/shooter?”

Asking how someone is feeling may make them upset, while asking for a statement to the shooter takes away coverage of the victim.

Don't say "I understand" or "I know how you feel." Some better questions may look like

  • "How're you doing today"

  • "How did you experience that?"

  • "What do you think about..."

  • "Have your perspectives changed since then?"

  • "What supports do you have in your life?" 

How to Frame Live Coverage

Live coverage, especially in broadcast news, focuses on trying to be first with breaking news. In rushing to get their story to stick out from the rest, some live journalism coverage relies on making their viewers feel shocked rather than accurate news coverage. If you have to record live after the shooting incident, try to stick to these tips:

Prioritize community members

Eyewitnesses, neighbors, community leaders, etc.​

EMTs or other medical professionals

Always ask for permission before filming or taking photos

Comfort people that look distressed

Consider publishing a more in-depth story in the following months after the shooting​​

Don't show pictures of the deceased or wounded

Don't show someone being arrested

Don't show faces or names of minors

Don't film distressing or violent scenery

 Bullet holes in windows

 Footage of someone getting shot or a firearm being used

 Bloody sidewalks

Additional Resources

Click on the number to view the full resource guide

The Journalist's Resource "Trauma-Informed Journalism: What It Is, Why It’s Important and Tips for Practicing It"

A PDF guide from the Dart Center "Trauma & Journalism: A Guide For Journalists, Editors & Managers"

Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice "Toolkit: Trauma-Informed Journalism"

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