Public Radio News Directors Discuss Trauma Coverage

Jun 24, 2013


The onslaught of social media is changing the way many people get their information.  Often times, the lines between fact, rumor and innuendo are blurred for users of social media…especially during a time of disaster or other traumatic event.  Public radio news directors and reporters from across the country gathered in Cleveland this weekend for their annual conference.   Russell Lewis is NPR Bureau Chief in the Southern region which includes Kentucky.  During times of high, intense trauma, Lewis says it’s critical for reporters to slow down and maintain objectivity.

“Report what you know, report what you can verify, report what you can see.  If somebody tells you something, the question you have to ask them is ‘how do you know that?  How do you know what you know?  And, at the end of the day, that is what is most important in a breaking news situation is reporting what you can verify and verify what people tell you,” said Lewis.

The emotional impact of traumatic events like the Newtown school tragedy can also affect those journalists covering the event.   Lewis was called in early on to help coordinator coverage of the Sandy Hook School shootings.

“Not that it’s any different that any other shooting like Aurora, or Columbine, or school shootings in California or elsewhere over the years. They’re all tragic and they’re all terrible.  But, I think what raised it up for a lot of people was these were little children.  These were little children who had their whole lives ahead of them.  And I think for most people, that was the biggest impact is why,” added Lewis.

On his way to Newtown in the Atlanta airport, Lewis met the family of Emily Parker, one the young students killed in Newtown.  Lewis says he felt it was important to just be there for the family and not be a reporter at that moment.  As they parted, he left them his card.   Later, the family contacted him and Lewis says it resulted in one of the first Sandy Hook remembrance stories.