Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

News Teams Must Be Sensitive in Dealing with Death, Victims

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

News Teams Must Be Sensitive in Dealing with Death, Victims

Article excerpt

Byline: Mike Clark, Times-Union Reader Advocate

A death in the family is sad enough, but learning of the tragedy through the news media just compounds the tragedy.

In today's era of instant communication, the possibility increases. For instance, the Times-Union regularly posts news immediately on its Web site, www.jacksonville.com

And that's why the reader called. Of course, the next of kin are routinely notified, but what if all the family members have not been informed?

What is the procedure and can it be improved?

It is the duty of the police authorities to notify next of kin, said Lt. Rick Graham of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. As chief of the homicide unit, his personnel often have that job. They do this in person. If asked to withhold a name from the news media for several hours till a family member is informed, they would be compassionate and usually comply, he said. And there are cases when police have asked the news media to withhold releasing a name for a limited period of time, and that usually is no problem, he said.

My comments: The Times-Union's ethics codes has a section on sensitivity and it would cover situations like this. I think Times-Union editors, when confronted with a reasonable request, would weigh the concerns of a grieving family before publishing a name. I would certainly encourage family members to ask.

MEDIA RIGHTS OF VICTIMS

The National Victim Center offers a pamphlet on Victims' Rights and the Media. Here are some highlights:

-- You may always decline an interview or speak at a time and location of your choosing. You may decline to answer particular questions.

-- You may select a spokesperson to speak to the news media on your family's behalf.

-- You may request a particular reporter to conduct the interview. You may ask for a list of questions. …

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