When crisis hits: media attention on traumatized students

Your school doesn't have to be the scene of a national tragedy to be faced with a media challenge. A crime investigation, a community disaster, or a family tragedy can result in reporters eager to talk to your students. As an education leader, what can you do to help students and their families in traumatic situations who are faced with the harsh glare of the media spotlight?

Here are a few tips to help:

  • Keep school a safe place, as normal as possible. Make sure all staff are aware of media policies, privacy and information rules, and that reporters do not have unsupervised access to school property. Prevent information leaks about the child.
  • Intervene when possible to prevent footage of a traumatized child from cycling repeatedly. Once clips of a traumatized child are on file with the media, the clips may be sensationalized and re-used without the family's consent or knowledge. If footage of the child is airing frequently, contact the station and request that the focus on the child be toned down.
  • Advise parents and guardians to carefully consider media requests to interview a child. For a child who has suffered the loss of a loved one, been the victim of a crime, or witnessed a tragedy, a media interview immediately or even months later could be painful and re-traumatizing.
  • Say no without saying "no comment." Instead, say, "We deeply appreciate the community's support and concern. The family has decided to decline all requests for media interviews at this time and needs privacy." Because some outlets will still want footage, they may attempt to tape the family's home. Ask stations to give the family the space it needs and to not harass them with drive-by filming.
  • Buffers and limitations can be set on the media by the family. Families can see interview questions ahead of time, choose to grant access to a particular media outlet or reporter, and restrict medical access during a memorial service. They can also issue a written statement and select a media spokesperson to act on their behalf.

Tips courtesy of Ami Neiberger-Miller, APR, owner of Steppingstone LLC. Reprinted with permission from the copyrighted article When crisis hits: media attention on traumatized students, published by the National School Public Relations Association, 15948 Derwood Rd., Rockville, MD 20855;; (301) 519-0496. No other reprints allowed without written permission from NSPRA.

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