Experienced and inexperienced journalists alike know of something commonly called the "death knock," also known as the "pick-up." Someone dies and your role is to persuade a relative or loved one to tell the story of the deceased (the term "pick-up" means getting a photo for publication or broadcast).
This week in England a journalist is appearing before the Press Complaints Commission (the body that crafts national standards for media) to propose a better system to deal with the sensitive encounter of reporter approaching relative.
Chris Wheal, who had to deal with the death knock when his nephew died, suggests the creation of a pamphlet that breaks the ice and asks about five options:
1. Want to sell to the highest bidder (a more British than North American trait)?
2. Want to tell everyone who calls?
3. Want to tell one journalist to distribute to other journalists?
4. Want to supply printed material yourself?
5. Want to have nothing to do with journalists?
Roy Greenslade, in writing about Wheal's proposal as the media writer for The Guardian, notes the challenges.
Who, for instance, should distribute the leaflet? Wheal suggests the commission; Greenslade says it's not practical. Wheal hints a team of volunteers; Greenslade says that's not feasible, either.
Instead, he proposes that the commission help frame a document that could be handed out by Press Association representatives (thus, without a competitive impetus) at accident scenes and similar situations. Greenslade even suggests police could do so (provided, of course, no crime appears involved).
Two other points Greenslade makes: Young reporters shouldn't be dispatched and older reporters shouldn't think there's only one way to do the job.