July 22, 2009 / Coverage / Idea File Supplement

Protocol for covering sensitive issues

Written by Kristina Smekens

STEP 1 -Determine if the issue will be covered by considering the following points:

  • Consider the audience and what their expectations are for this type of coverage in the yearbook.
  • Know what the community accepts and does not accept in the yearbook. Would this coincide?
  • Determine if the issue is relevant and interesting to the lives of students who will be buying the yearbook. Is this story newsworthy and truly a representation of the student body?
  • Determine possible sources. Is there a selection of reliable sources available?
  • Determine if the story can be dealt with in a positive manner. Is there a “hope” angle that can bring the story full circle?
  • Determine if the story will endanger any students in any way. Will anyone be hurt physically, emotionally, socially or legally if this story runs? Can the story can be adequately researched and avoid generalizations? Can the story be written in a non-biased manner?
  • Determine the purpose of the story. Does telling this story only sensationalize an issue, or does it really matter?
  • Determine how permanent this story should be. Does the immediate and lasting impacts of this story warrant its coverage in the yearbook?

STEP 2 -If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then determine how to approach the story. The points to consider require communication of all staff members involved. The photographer, writer, designer and editor all have to be aware of the approach for this spread. Every element must meet the agreed upon criteria. The spread must have a uniform tone and message. To determine what that is, address the following statements:

  • Focusing on the consequences more deeply than the actions in order to bring the story full circle. Brainstorm to identify some of the potential consequences.
  • Determine what the audience already knows and perceives about this issue. What can be said that is different?
  • Look to tell a story with a hopeful angle. How can this story be told so that it makes the student body and school community feel good about themselves, despite the negative or tragic issue?
  • Determine the mood or tone for this story be written in to coincide with the seriousness it necessitates.
  • Determine the specific angle of the story to avoid glorifying the negative, sensitive or controversial elements.

return to Sensitive Issues

Kristina Smekens