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Guidance for Writing About Tragedy

People around the world are writing about the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut today. The DART Center for Journalism and Trauma has a concise and helpful guide (PDF link) for anyone writing about a tragedy, advice that can be applied to everything from Twitter posts to news stories to blog posts.

We’ve collected a few important points, but all writers should read this resource before writing about this tragedy. Here are three excerpts:

“When writing about victims, focus on the person’s life. Find out what made the person special: personality, beliefs, environment (surroundings, hobbies, family and friends), and likes and dislikes. Treat the person’s life as carefully as a photographer does in framing a portrait.”


“avoid words and terms such as ‘closure,’ ‘will rest in peace’ or ‘a shocked community mourns the death.’ Use simple and clear words as good writers  do for any story.”

“Use quotes and anecdotes from the victim’s relatives and friends to  describe the person’s life. Especially those that tell how the person had overcome obstacles. Seek current photos of the victim (but always return them as soon as possible). This way, you know what the person looked like in life.”

In addition, the site offered these links:

Quick tips for interviewing children.

The Dart Center’s comprehensive guide, ”Covering Children and Trauma.”

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network‘s resources on responding to a school crisissuggestions for educators, and age-related reactions to a traumatic event.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration‘s Tips for Talking to Children and Youth. After Traumatic Events

(Link via Maryn McKennaLaura Hazard Owen)

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