Four Effective Warnings

When there’s disturbing news or content, the issue of whether and how to warn the audience comes up.

As we’ve said before, ”there is no one style. Sometimes, ‘this report includes offensive language’ is enough because there are only a few such words. Other times, a more substantial advisory is needed — when a story includes sounds of suffering or painful accounts of personal trauma, for example. We use our judgment to determine how much is necessary and what to say.”

Here are four effective ways the issue was handled in the past 24 hours:

- A Newscast spot about the latest murder posted on Facebook was introduced with an advisory: “This next report involves details that may be upsetting to some listeners.” Then, before the details were shared, listeners were given a sense of what the story would be about and enough time for most of them to turn down the volume if they wished.

- On Morning Edition, a conversation about that murder and video was preceded with word that “many people will find this next story disturbing. It’s the story of the latest murder shown on Facebook. The world’s biggest social network has offered condolences … but has not said much about just how it addressed the violent content from Thailand. We are going to talk about some troubling details, which is going to take us about four minutes or so.”

Telling listeners how long a report will be is, of course, a way of signalling that some of them might want to tune out for that period. Here’s what we’ve said about that kind of warning:

“Are you suggesting we do it all the time? No.

“What is being suggested is that some types of reports — especially those that parents might not want their children to hear or that might disturb particular groups of vulnerable people — might merit a mention about how long they’ll last.

“It’s a friend doing someone else a favor.”

- The Facebook news was in the Up First podcast, and a heads-up tailored for a digital audience was included: “Let’s have a warning here — before we begin our final story — because … some people may just want to hit pause or something at this point because [they] are going to find this disturbing.”

- Online, rather than just noting that there was sexual content in the piece, Eric Deggans’ review of The Handmaid’s Tale was introduced with a note that “this story talks about characters who are forced into sexual slavery.” The words “forced” and “slavery” were important because simply saying there was sexual content would not have given readers a clear enough picture of what was going to be discussed.

Thanks, all.

(“Memmos;” April 26, 2017)

April 26, 2017

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