Dealing with a student death

Here at the University of Lincoln, our student newspaper, the Linc, is a baby. We’ve only printed seven issues, and so every edition that comes out brings a new fresh problem for the team to overcome.

This month we heard some tragic news. Three students lost their lives during the Christmas break. Of course, we had to cover it. It was just a question of how.

The only decision we were sure about is that we had to cover it. We would lose any integrity we had if we let this news go unreported. Bad news happens. What we weren’t sure of was how to go about presenting our coverage. We had to be careful.

How a student newspaper reports a death has to be different to the way a local paper would. You know that people who knew the student will be reading. Do you report mere facts (the time, the place, essential details) and risk coming across as wooden? Or do you delve into the life of the student, and risk being accused of intruding on a family’s grief?

Get your coverage wrong and you could find your newspaper on the end of some very angry, emotional students. Yet, get it right, and you’ll have produced a moving newspaper, paying a worthy tribute to the students.

Unfortunately, that line between tribute and insult can be crossed very easily. You can – and should – adhere to the PCC Code, and not be afraid to use it to defend your actions. But at the back of your mind should be the acknowledgement that you have a duty to treat the news as respectfully as possible.

For our coverage, we lead with a front page picture and the headline of ‘Tragic’. It has, as expected, caused distress – but just because it’s a realisation that these students are sadly no longer with us.

I’m interested to hear any stories from student editors out there about how to deal with difficult issues like a death on campus.

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