Would a Journalist Who’s a Crime Victim Speak to a Crime Journalist?

In the immediate aftermath of homicide would you answer the door to the press?  Would you?  You could.  But would you?

For once I’m examining this question from the vantage point of the journalist.  Would a journalist answer their door if their loved one had been murdered?

A survey by Tamara Cherry, an award-winning crime reporter and founder of Pickup Communications in Canada, found a consensus, of sorts.  Younger journalists were more discrete.  Their collective answer went something like this.  “I can only speak for myself but I’d want to tell their story about who they were, not what happened.”

But seasoned reporters were blunt.  “I’d tell them to fuck off!  I wouldn’t answer my phone or my door for any of them no matter how often they stalked me.”

Well, it seems years on the job make a difference…

Is this because experienced reporters know something the general public doesn’t? 

Things like:

  • All reporters cherry-pick sound bites or sentences. A survivor may pour their heart out for 45 minutes but later see only a handful of sentences published.  It will often become part of a bigger story (like “the rise of crime on the West Side”, or “how social media impacts violence”).
  • Speaking with one reporter will not deter others. The reverse is true.
  • What survivors say in the heat of the moment may impact the investigation.
  • What survivors say in the heat of the moment may impact the trial.
  • What survivors say in the heat of the moment may cause or worsen family rifts.
  • What survivors say in the heat of the moment may impact neighbors.
  • Words can be misleading when taken out of context.
  • Words, like the story itself, will forever be preserved on the internet.
  • Privacy may be weakened by consenting to an interview where private photos can be seen in the background, when a minor comes into the room, or by catching homicide survivors off guard by asking questions like “Where will the funeral be?”
  • Survivors fail to set boundaries before being interviewed (like, “Don’t ask about my children,” or “Do not ask me to speculate on who I think is responsible for this,” or  “Do not show my face.”)
  • Survivors almost never stop an interview when it becomes intrusive or sensationalized.
  • Some eager reporters ask “gotcha questions.” (“On social media last year you said, ‘All cops are racist pigs.’  How do you feel this investigation is going?”)

Back to reporter Tamara Cherry, someone I’ve come to know and respect.  She interviewed many crime victims on their experiences of interfacing with the press and mulled over what she heard them say. She even published their responses in her book (see below). She hopes her findings will influence future journalists.

When the dust settled she asked herself if she would open the door to speak about a homicide of a loved one. After careful thought and a deep breath, she had this to say:

“It was a question I struggled with.  The discomfort I had in reaching out to survivors tugged me toward ‘no’ while the belief that the work I was doing was for the greater good tugged me toward ‘yes.’  Now considering all my surveys and interviews, what I know about the impact of trauma on the brain, the near complete void of support for survivors faced with media attention, and the near complete lack of training for journalists working with survivors, I find myself firmly in the Camp Fuck Off.”

Hmmm…. Food for thought.

See:  Cherry, T. (2023). The Trauma Beat: A case for re-thinking the business of bad news.  ECW Press.

For more detailed information and for other resources, please refer to my book What Now? Navigating the Aftermath of Homicide and Suicide, available now on Amazon.

Click this Amazon link:   https://www.amazon.com/What-Now-Navigating-Aftermath-Homicide-ebook/dp/B0BXND9DQR

I’m Jan Canty. Psychologist, author, podcast host, speaker…  and homicide survivor.

I am passionate about finding ways to support and help other so-called “homicide or suicide survivors.”

No one should have to go through this kind of loss… but if you do, I want you to know… YOU ARE NOT ALONE! 

You aren’t crazy. It’s not your imagination! Society does not know how to comfort us. Fortunately, we know how to comfort one another.

Check out my books and get tools and resources to help you or someone you love!