7 guidelines for responding after a tragic event

The shooting spree at a Colorado cinema warrants compassionate and accurate media coverage, but how should your organization respond in the aftermath of a disaster?

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The shooting spree at a movie theater in Aurora couldn’t help but bring up memories of the Columbine High School shootings 13 years ago—and a mere 20 miles away.

As a newspaper editor at the time, I remember reporters coming back into the newsroom in tears, staring blankly at their computers. On Friday, Dave Perry, the editor of the Aurora Sentinel, wrote a blog post about how the newsroom was full of reporters, and there was silence.

“Quiet’s not good in a newsroom. Quiet is the sound of tragedy. It’s the sound of crisis. It’s when reporters and editors clench their jaws and squint,” Perry wrote.

Journalists are supposed to be neutral observers, but that’s impossible in such cases. On Sept. 11, 2001, when I found out my childhood friend had been killed, I hid out in the newspaper’s stairwell and cried, then went back to reporting the news.

Denver is a small community, and many of us know people directly affected by Friday’s shootings. Several members of our firm are helping clients respond to media calls and counseling other clients about whether and how to respond publicly.

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