Covering distressing news for children
Stories like the American school shooting are very rare; but every time they happen, we consider incredibly carefully if and how we cover them on Newsround.
1) Should we cover it at all?
Quite often, we won't. If we don't think an upsetting story has registered with most children, we don't want to bring it to their attention.
For this reason, we didn't mention at all the shooting of a student in Colorado last week.
However, we know that many children will have picked up something about this shooting. I happened to be at a Newsround event with 300 seven-to-11 year olds this morning, and I asked them specifically if they were aware of the shooting. 90% of the children raised their hands.
2) Report it simply and factually
Once we are sure the story has registered with children, we believe our job is to cover the story accurately, reliably and without sensationalism.
If you add to that the hearsay and half-heard comments that children can pick up in the playground or from friends or parents, and the story can often become far wilder or more scary in their minds than it should be.
We aim therefore to stand in the gap, and provide a simple, factual explanation of what happened. Specifically:
• We don't dwell on the details (which can make it so much more real to children, and mean they start putting themselves in that place)
• We use passive constructions ("Five girls have died", not "The man went in and shot five girls")
• We consider carefully whether to show the most emotive or lingering shots (which could include stills of the killer)
3) Add in positive reassurance
It is incredibly rare for something like this to happen, and that is something that we say explicitly in our coverage. The media covers shootings like this precisely because they are still so unusual. There are 25 million schoolchildren in America. Before this incident, only one student had been shot in a school in America this year.
Children are still very safe in school, and that is something we take great pains to stress.
We also have a webpage entitled What to do if the news upsets you. This was written with the help of a child psychologist, and we refer to it on all our coverage. This gives children who are upset somewhere to go to get help.
And we are enabling children to send messages to the families affected. This provides a cathartic release, and allows children to watch our coverage and feel like they are doing something in response.
4) Don't go overboard in our coverage
Finally, it can be tempting to follow the 24-hour news networks and provide wall-to-wall coverage. For Newsround, this is fundamentally wrong. All it does is distort the significance of the event.
We will devote no more than 30% of our output today to the shooting. We will then ensure we cover other news (to show that the world is still happening), and specifically include lighter items (today, a preview of the Robin Hood series).
We hope this will mean children leave us feeling happier, brighter and more reassured about the world they live in.
I have written a longer entry than normal, but I believe it is important to set out how we approach these stories. I am happy to answer questions, if you post them as comments below.
I would also be interested to read what you think of our coverage, on air or online.