Journalists should report a student or staff death in an objective, consistent manner that has been decided when the staff manual is being revised. Choosing what to publish at the time of any tragedy is not wise and can cause staffs to make choices that create problems in the future.
Staff manual process
In the event of the death of a student or staff member, students should follow guidelines to produce a standard obituary.
• The staff manual should outline type and size of photo use. For example, the editors may determine a school portrait-type photo is preferable. It also should provide guidance on length of the obituary and should specify the recommended timeline (such as posting via electronic media within 24 hours) as well as whether it will appear in upcoming print media in a place previously established.
• Web and print coverage should include school and community reaction as it happens.
• The editorial board should consider what place, if any, an obituary has in the yearbook and should specify how time, space limitations and cause of death (as well as any other factors) play a role in that decision.
• For deaths of individuals not officially affiliated with the district, student editors should determine appropriate coverage based on news value. This may or may not include an official obituary.
• Information those outside the staff provide for the obituary should be fact-checked like those of any other news.
• Staffs should obtain public records as available.
Lesson: With Freedom of the Press Comes Great Responsibility, Journalism Education Association
Summing Up a Life: Meeting the Obituary’s Challenge, The Poynter Institute
Audio: Covering Death, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee, Press Rights Minute
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