ABOUT US: Our history, mission & goals | Our staff & supporters

Our history and mission

The Victims and the Media Program was established in 1991 to assist journalism students in reporting on victims of violence and catastrophe with the sensitivity, dignity and respect that they deserve. The program benefited from the input and resources of psychiatrist Frank Ochberg, M.D.; the Dart Foundation of Mason, Mich.; and the Michigan Victim Alliance. With their help, the program hosted a conference on the topic, created a series of instructional videotapes and developed curriculum on the topic for use in the journalism classes at the Michigan State University School of Journalism. MSU's J-School remains the only School of Journalism in the United States that guarantees all of its graduates receive specialized intruction in reporting on victims of violence and catastrophe.

In the introductory reporting classes, MSU J-School students participate in an interactive discussion about issues related to reporting on victims, promoted by a videotape on "Reporting on Victims of Violence and Catastrophe" (click here for more information).

In the advanced reporting classes, students typically have the opportunity to interview a victim volunteer and learn about that person's experiences with the media. In-class presentations can also feature first-hand accounts from journalists who cover crime or who have covered major tragedies such as the Oklahoma City bombing or the school shooting in Columbine.

Expanding the mission

Over time, the program has expanded its mission to include outreach efforts beyond the college classroom. Among the new initiatives are efforts to provide assistance to working journalists. Faculty and staff serve as panelists or workshop trainers at the annual meetings of professional and student news media associations such as the Society for Professional Journalists, Michigan Press Association, Associated Press, Michigan Press Women, Headliners Club of Chicago and the College Media Association. [Click here to visit a mini-Website on Bonnie Bucqueroux' participation on the SPJ panel on the topic. (Please bookmark this site before you leave.)]

The program has also provided workshops for individual news organizations, such as the Detroit Free Press, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Bay City Times. Funding from the Freedom Forum allowed the program to develop a new video for use in the classroom and with professionals. The video "Reporting on Victims of Violence & Castrophe" focuses on: issues and challenges, tips and techniques and the impact on the journalist.

For six years, the Victims and the Media Progam administered the judging for the Dart Award. The $10,000 prize is now administered by the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at the University of Washington.

Our goals

As you will see in the Outreach section, the Victims and the Media Program continues to expand its mission. With input from the Faculty Advisory Committee and the Community Advisory Council, the program is inaugurating a new era of assisting victim advocates and service providers in dealing with their unique roles as facilitators and buffers between victims and the media. Many victim groups also benefit from assistance in building a media strategy that allows them to educate local reporters on victim issues and on the work that their organizations do.

We also recognize the importance of finding ways to do more to assist working journalists in dealing with the stresses and trauma of reporting on victims. The program has developed partnerships with journalists who have covered unusual tragedies, including the Oklahoma City bombing and Columbine. Important as well are proposed efforts to develop peer counseling initiatives that could assist news managers in dealing with the particular challenges that this work entails.

Current and future goals include:

  • To continue providing quality instruction on the topic for all MSU journalism students.
  • To offer specialized instruction and assistance for working journalists and media organizations.
  • To explore new ways to help journalists cope with the impact of this difficult work.
  • To expand our role in assisting news managers.
  • To conduct research on a wide range of issues related to media coverage of victims and the impact on the journalist.
  • To honor examples of excellence in reporting on victims of violence and castastrophe.
  • To provide information, training and technical assistance to victim service providers and advocates.
  • To give readers and viewers tools to assess and influence the media's performance.
  • To form new partnerships with concerned journalists, news organizations, victim groups, the mental-health community and others who care.
  • To identify new ways to use the Internet and online instruction to further the goals of the program.
  • To inform discussions about the community/public journalism movement with victim concerns.
  • To assist news media in dealing with the variety of challenges inherent in covering victims and violence -- from our Wrongful Conviction Workshop to new efforts to educate the public about the media's role in community justice and crime prevention.