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How do you feel? Preparing novice reporters for the death knock

Duncan, Sallyanne and Newton, Jackie (2010) How do you feel? Preparing novice reporters for the death knock. Journalism Practice, 4 (4). pp. 439-453. ISSN 1751-2786

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The death knock is a reporting task that presents its own particular pressures. In addition to the usual editorial, legal and ethical concerns, the potential on the part of the journalist to do harm is heightened as they attempt to interview already vulnerable people in a situation which most are ill prepared for. In this environment, reporters are generally expected to learn how to undertake this particular form of sensitive reporting 'by doing'. Many journalists have received little or no training in this area and despite journalism educators demonstrating a willingness to prepare their students for their first attempt at this type of reporting, there is considerable confusion over the most appropriate and effective methods for doing so. This article discusses certain approaches, specifically role playing, that could be used in the classroom. Firstly, journalists' perceptions of the activity and their preparedness for it were identified in order to enrich educators' understanding of the process. Two studies were undertaken - a survey of journalists' attitudes to intrusive reporting and interviews with journalists and other interested parties on their perceptions of the death knock and appropriate educational strategies. Finally, a focus group of current second and third year students was held to review findings.