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Dave Cullen

Dave Cullen
New York, New York, USA
June 03
Written for NY Times, W Post, Slate, Salon, Daily Beast. Publisher Twelve (Hachette)
An expanded paperback edition of my book COLUMBINE came out March 1, 2010. Links to the book and my bio below: http://www.davecullen.com/columbine.htm

FEBRUARY 23, 2011 12:55PM

How to interview a victim humanely--Today Show

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In December, I posted a video/blog post critiquing the disturbing interview of a victim on the Today Show. It was pretty awful, and riled a lot of you up.

This morning, I'm happy to report the flipside, on the same show. Watch how Ann Curry handles the end of this interview with a rattled mom, whose son committed suicide. I just clipped the end of the interview, so it runs just about 20 seconds:

Look how the mom reacts. She really needed that. She has a tough road ahead, and that moment could make a huge difference to her recovery. Having her pain and her actions validated that powerfully, and that publicly mean the world to many people in that situation.

Ann could have done it off the air, but then the woman's friends would never see it. She would not see it herself when she watched the tape again. For her, what happened on-air is the historical record. That is crucial.

Every reporter does not need to end every interview this way. It's a matter of instinct. And when your instincts say, This person needs support, give some.

I've learned a lot about empathetic reporting as a fellow at the Dart Center for Journalism and Tra
Publish Post
uma, which is part of the Columbia Journalism School, and the Dart Society, which is doing outreach. Click on their sites to learn more.

(I'm going to do an event with the Dart Society in Tucson in a couple weeks, about reporting the recent tragedy there. I'll have more info on that soon.)

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As someone who has interviewed many men and women, mostly women, who have been subjected to tremendous trauma, emotional and physical, I have a lot of experience with this. One aspect, which no doubt you have considered and may lecture on, is not seeing someone only as a "victim" which, while accurate, completely objectifies them and labels them. They already feel disoriented and "other" and journalists with a shred of common sense or compassion (I think every single one of them/us needs specific training in this sort of interview technique) know this.

Curry seems to be a genuinely empathic woman. If you are, great. But too many reporters want a great "get" and forget that this is a human being, a suffering and wounded soul, who has **chosen** to share their story with us. They deserve, and must also always get from us, our respect for them as people, not just a juicy, hot story/source.
Hi Dave. I watched your video clip with your advice. You are so right! I have been a victim who was interviewed by police, the district attorney and lawyers on the stand in a courtroom as well as a rape advocate. I was taken off a college campus my first month at college at gunpoint and raped. Even though all of the people who interviewed me were supposedly professionals it didn't seem to matter in terms of how sensitive they were to my position. The only one who really was kind to me was the state trooper who found me at the side of the road. I was young at the time and had no idea what to expect in terms of their behavior or professionalism, but I could recognize kindness and humanity. And when viewers watch a TV interview like the one you showed, they immediately think "what a inhumane unfeeling person she must be!" about the interviewer which is exactly what I thought.
I'll never forget the state trooper who helped me the day I was raped. How he treated me throughout the investigation and the trials. He was the only person who treated me humanely.
Thanks for the video post. Hopefully it will help the young reporters.
kim, yow, that's awful. i'm glad to hear about the trooper. one person can make all the difference.