Reporting on violence

The goal of the Reporting on Violence project was to provide consumers of news with more accurate and comprehensive information on violence and violence prevention. The project was conceived by BMSG director Lori Dorfman and journalist Jane Stevens, and later involved Esther Thorson, Associate Dean at the School of Journalism, University of Missouri-Columbia, and Brant Houston, Director of Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE) and the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting (NICAR). Together, they created tools for journalists and journalism students on how to include a public health perspective, also known as a prevention or data-driven approach, in articles about violence.


Reporting on Violence: A Handbook for Journalists, written by Jane Stevens, offers data, resources and suggestions on how to develop data-driven crime and violence stories. We have distributed nearly 1,000 copies to reporters and others in more than 131 news media outlets, journalism programs or affiliated organizations in California and across the country. The handbook's second edition expands data-driven crime reporting to television news and websites.


During the process of developing and conducting workshops for the San Jose Mercury News, the Los Angeles Times, the Sacramento Bee, the San Francisco Examiner (pre-sale), and the Philadelphia Inquirer, project team members met personally with more than 26 senior editors and provided direct training to 51 reporters and editors on how to include a data-driven approach in violence coverage.

Web development for news organizations

Since the space required to add context and continuity to violence reporting is available on the web, the project organizers developed a prototype Health and Safety website for news organizations. The prototype site incorporates data and resources about violence and is a model for other health reporting. Learn here about how web shells can enhance reporting on violence and other health issues.

Creation of a health and safety website on [ANG]

For the first time in any news organization, crime coverage was included under the umbrella of health and safety, thus reflecting a prevention- and solution- oriented approach to crime reporting. The California Wellness Foundation provided funds for the next step in the reporting on violence project. In addition to an overall website, several special projects or sub-shells were developed:

  • a sub-section on youth violence prevention and restorative justice projects in Alameda County;
  • an interactive story package about homicides in Oakland during 2006, which was designed so that the homicides of 2007 would be added as they occurred;
  • a sub-section that focused on West Oakland, as an example of a community section of the site;
  • a sub-section on child abuse in Alameda County.

The people who were involved in the development of the site and the production of the special sub-sections and story packages included:

  • reporters and editors at the Oakland Tribune
  • graduate students at the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and their instructors
  • law school students at Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley
  • undergraduate and graduate students at the iSchool - the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley
  • West Oakland community members

Journalism education

Deborah Potter, executive director of NewsLab, worked with our BMSG team to apply the public health approach to crime and violence reporting to local TV news formats. Several pairs of crime stories were developed that illustrate, before and after, how to include a data-driven approach: See how the original news story on youth violence looked; then watch the revised youth violence story. You can also see the original hate crime story and the revised hate crime story; and the original bomb threat and revised bomb threat. Recognizing the necessity of journalism students to learn about incorporating a data-driven approach to reporting violence, the team also developed An Instructor's Guide for Reporting on Violence.

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