Resource Center

Covering tragedies

Shootings, especially those involving children and schools, devastate communities and garner unprecedented media coverage. But with the flood of media attention, reporters must remember those who were affected by the terrible events and take the necessary precautions while covering such a delicate story.

Along with the tipsheets and stories below, you can turn to:

  • IWitness provides a similar service as Geofeedia
  • Ask local law enforcement for an electronic list of calls for service to that address. Three years is good. Five is better. It will show you if there have been any past issues at the school.

Related Tipsheets

  • Children and Trauma: Interviewing Tips
    Black provides interview guidelines for reporters interviewing children who have been through traumatic events. She provides general guidelines, as well as details for interviews at the scene of a crime or disaster; covers interview pointers for past traumas, too. (Available in English and Spanish.)

  • Tragedies & Journalists
    This is a guide published by the Dart Center to help journalists cover catastrophic events better, and to survive them in better shape. Chapters deal with such subjects as interviewing victims and rescue workers, being among the first responders to a terrorist act, and dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • "Children and Violence"
    This special edition of Nieman reports focuses on the ways the media report on children and violence in the wake of highly publicized school shootings. Schools, police, courtrooms and juvenile detention centers all factor into the series, compiled of articles from editors and writers with firsthand experience in covering violent acts of children and, more often, the acts of violence committed against them. The media's role in shaping public perception of juvenile violence - a thorny issue touching on race and deep-rooted social concerns - is also examined.

  • Putting It All Together: Breaking News and Disaster Coverage
    Learn tips about how to sucessfully report on breaking news and cover disasters.

  • Broadcast: After Breaking News, What's Next?
    This tipsheet is comprised of many useful web links covering topics of aviation accidents, automobiles and trucks, political campaign data, federal spending, U.S. court system, crime, business records, weather and more.

  • Investigations in the Fast Lane: Some Rules for the Road
    Be prepared and have a plan for when the breaking news happens. Forsyth gives great tips on what to do when the story breaks.

Related Stories

  • Descent Into Madness
    CBS News: 60 Minutes investigates the shootings by Jared Loughner that wounded Gabrielle Giffords and killed several others. 60 Minutes found that Loughner's acts followed a well-worn path towards targeted violence that had been studied by the Secret Service and that he gave off many warning signals about his intentions.

  • Tucson Tragedy
    Within a few hours of the horrific shooting of 19 people, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, at a Tucson-area grocery, The Republic focused on two paramount questions in the investigative part of its coverage: What motive and circumstance drove the alleged shooter to act, and what enabled him to succeed? In the short amount of time they had, The Republic staff reached the community college where the alleged shooter had studied, contacted friends and found video and Internet postings of his.

  • Virginia Tech Massacre Investigation
    The series was published around the time of the one year anniversary on the April 2007 Virginia Tech campus school shooting, and published periodically from June to December. It was found that university officials misled the public about how long they knew a gunman was at large, delaying the issued warning.

  • Von Maur Shootings
    In December 2007, a young man killed eight people then himself with an assault rifle at the Von Maur department store in Omaha. It was the largest mass murder in state history, a story that made national news. But when other media moved onto other stories, a team of World-Herald reporters spent much of 2008 digging into the issues surrounding such an astonishing act of violence. Some of their findings include: emergency responders were delayed getting to victims due to miscommunications by 911 dispatchers, a troubling suicide spike, and the depth of the gunman's psychological problems.

Related Databases

  • FBI Uniform Crime Reports

    The Uniform Crime Reports, comprised of six databases, includes crime information reported to the FBI by law enforcement agencies around the country. Most of the data consist of the "index" crimes: murder, nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft, motor-vehicle theft and arson. These crimes, with the exception of arson, were chosen in 1929 to serve as an index for gauging fluctuations in the overall volume and rate of crime. Arson was added by Congressional mandate in 1979.

    During the early planning of the program, it was recognized that the differences among criminal codes precluded a mere aggregation of state statistics to arrive at a national total. Further, because of the variances in punishment for the same offenses in different state codes, no distinction between felony and misdemeanor crimes was possible.

    All databases in the Uniform Crime Reports, except the Supplemental Homicide Report (SHR), are arranged by police reporting agencies. Occurrences are presented as aggregates. The data is broken down by month. All the databases provide the region, state, county, city, metropolitan statistical area (MSA) and reporting agency identifier.

    The data are available in either CSV or SQL format (the latter for MySQL users only).

    Contact the database library if you are interested in a state slice, or a single database (such as the SHR).

  • Federal Firearms/Explosives Licensees

    The ATF Federal Firearms Licensee database lists all federally approved gun dealers in the United States. That includes stores, rifle clubs, museums and individuals who want to own guns that require a ATF permit. After Congress enacted the Brady bill, licenses for dealerships became quite expensive and, consequently, the number of licensees has fallen noticeably. Current as of February 2013, the data include 65,514 records of licensed dealers, from Wal-Mart to Kmart to Texas EZPAWN.

    Contact us at datalib@ire.org for archives or state slices.