Reporting on crime is never easy for any reporter. Especially in many cases, according to A Guide for Journalists who report on Crime and Crime Victims, rookie reporters are most likely to be assigned to cover crime when there’s a need to work nighttime hours in a high crime rate neighborhood. And,
“Unfortunately, news organizations rarely offer rookies training about reporting on victims of violence and many did not receive specialized instruction before entering the field.”
Lacking in experience in this case is very likely to cause mistakes and difficulties in dealing with victim’s interviews, and lots of unnecessary pressure would also be added to the work. Thus, it’s crucial and urgent for rookie journalists have themselves fully and well prepared before actually entering the career.
The guidelines I came up with are mostly inspired by Bonnie Bucqueroux and Anne Seynour’s “A Guide for Journalists who report on Crime and Crime Victims” and Sue Carter’s “Interviewing Victims” as well as my own ethical codes based upon my background.
The way reporters are supposed to deal with crime reporting in which they could make ethical decisions prior to further investigation is to create a self guideline that would be strictly followed. The guideline should be updated and revised as the situations reporters will face vary time to time.
Based upon my personal interest, I’ll come up with a list of ethical principles on crime reporting by comparing how differently as well as how similarly American media and Chinese media cover the same issue. The ethical codes of crime reporting should be universally shared regardless of government censorship, because journalists are supposed to make their own decisions guided by ethical principles.
Before we get into the guidelines for crime coverage, it’s important for journalists to know the unique role that news media is playing in terms of impact on crime victims and the readers.
Crime victims and their relatives always find themselves the subject of media coverage, regardless of whether they are willing to participate or not. So the biggest challenge for journalists is to report on crime victims with essential facts but without victimizing them. It’s especially important when dealing with venerable populations like children and relatives of the victim.
“It feels like a knife stabbing the heart.” This is what Lingzi Lu’s parents said in an interview with NewsCenter 5 through a translator. Lingzi Lu, the Boston University student killed by the Boston Marathon Bombing has become her parents’ eternal pain in the lifetime. Interviewing such people might forced them to recall all the terrible things happened to their beloved, and thus stir emotional reactions.
Expressing your concern when interviewing such group of people. Being considerate does not mean journalists should prevent themselves from asking tough questions during interview, on the contrary, showing your concern towards victim or victim’s family’s loss actually develop trust leading to a more open conversation. Share human feeling and experience to the victims or the victim’s family and tell them bad things indeed happen to good people, and let them know “You are not doing anything wrong”.
But, don’t be one-sided
Journalist should always maintain their professional skepticism towards the “victim” unless proved. Given the case of Sun Yang that I have discussed in my previous post, journalists should not suspend all disbelief toward the Brazilian swimmer only because she asserted that she was physically abused by Sun Yang.
Try to get the reliable source and get quotes from both sides, and let the readers to decide.
Be careful on what should be presented and partial truth should not be accepted
It’s hard to balance the victim’s right to protect privacy and the public’s right to know the facts, and there are many private facts that the victims and their families are not willing to be revealed. However, “information that is part of a public record is generally considered open to the press to report.” So setting up a bottom line, for me: report essential facts that will only enrich the story not victimize sources and never accept partial truth that would potentially misleading, is very helpful for journalists to make ethical decisions.
The case of two slain USC Chinese students, Ying Wu and Ming Qu well indicates how partial truth hurts journalism. A video named “Our Voice” posted after several media websites reported on their death. Chinese students in USC voluntarily gathered and attended a candlelight vigil, expressing their sympathy towards victims and disappointment for how media distort the facts.
Crucial Tips for Chinese journalists: when covering/translating international issue, be aware of certain stereotypes that American media might have.
According to Chaijing’s documentary “Investigating on USC shooting”, the initial report was from the Associated Press and mentioned “ a brand new BMW valued at $60,000” in their original newsletter. This piece of information later was deleted because of inaccuracy. However, a field reporter of the Fox cited this false information in a live reporting. Hours after the shooting, the state-run Xinhua agency was the first Chinese media translating news articles in American media while omitted the part of exaggerating the condition and price of the car. But some of the major Chinese media websites such like Wangyi and Sohu put “brand new BMW” and “shot dead at midnight” in the headline and soon raised numerous speculations on social media.
A screen catch of Chaijing’s documentary
A screen catch of Chaijing’s documentary
If you google “Chinese international students”, a bunch of articles related them to “luxury cars”, “ultra rich” and such key words popped out right away. There is even an article on Bloomberg titled “Chines students major in luxury cars”. It’s fair enough for other American to judge Chinese students as “super rich” as many of them act high profile and show off their parent’s wealth. But as journalists, we should stick with the core principle: objectivity, that is not to assume anything before investigate.
To summarize, I want to refer to a speech of a friend of Ying Wu and Ming Qu at their Memorial Service, and I believe this would be the most important ethical code that I will follow in the future.
“Put your hand on your heart” as a journalist.
“I just hope that every media here tonight can cover this incident with their conscience.”
“Please do not exaggerate. Don’t make unnecessary ornamentations to the incidents.”
“This our only correct way to mourn.”
By a friend of Ying Wu and Ming Qu