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WORKING WITH THE MEDIA

At TAPS, we work with the news media nationally and locally in many ways to tell the survivor story. On a daily basis, journalists call us to speak about issues affecting the parents, spouses, children, siblings, and other loved ones left behind following the death of a service member.

We welcome into TAPS anyone who is grieving the death of someone who died in the military - so our families have experienced loss in a variety of ways - from combat, suicide, terrorism, homicide, negligence, accidents, and illness. Our survivors include mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fiances and other relatives of those who have died.

Nearly all of our families are trauma survivors. They all thought their loved one would return home from a military assignment. Instead, their worst nightmare came true. Consequently, journalists must be aware of techniques for interviewing trauma survivors and realize that these stories require sensitivity.

POTENTIAL STORY TOPICS

  • the impact of traumatic loss on the family left behind, what families experience in the first few days after a death.
  • estimates from TAPS on the number of spouses, children, parents, siblings, and others left behind following a death.
  • the immediate and long-term effects that grief and bereavement have on individuals and families.
  • the surviving family experience for the long-term -the experience of spouses, parents, children, siblings, and others left behind following a military death - and how they pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives.
  • parenting children following the death of a parent who served in the military.
  • post-traumatic stress among the bereaved.
  • suicide in the military - as seen through the experience of the families left behind following a death by suicide. 

FOR JOURNALISTS: PREPARING YOURSELF TO SPEAK WITH SURVIVORS

We recommend any member of the media who is speaking with the family of someone who has died while serving in the military, review guidelines from the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma for speaking with trauma survivors.

Best Practices in Trauma Reporting 
Covering Children & Trauma
Interviewing Victims 
Tragedies & Journalists 

Resources for Reporters - Reporting on Suicide

Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)
Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma - Reporting on Suicide
Poynter - Reporting on Suicide  

FOR FAMILIES: RESOURCES TO HELP FAMILIES TALK WITH THE MEDIA

Guide for Military Families on Dealing with the Media After a Tragedy

Resources from Workshop on Sharing Your Story When It Involves the Suicide of a Loved One

Sharing Your Story - Presentation Slides
Sharing Your Story Outline - MS-Word   pdf file

ABOUT OUR FAMILIES AND MEDIA COVERAGE

Our families did not ask to become public figures when they suffered the death of someone they love. Yet a death in service to country carries public meaning, and often involves public mourning. Many families, in the immediate hours and days after the deaths of their loved ones when they are vulnerable and planning a funeral, are also asked to speak in sound bites and provide photos to the media. Some families use this opportunity to share the story of their loved one's life and service, and use the media to distribute information to the community about how to contribute to a memorial fund or honor their loved one.

Some of our families carry scars from their initial interactions with the media during the days immediately following their loved one's death. Others navigated the media interest that may have surrounded their loved one's death with shakiness and entrusted others to help (or not) with this, and didn't return calls from the media because they were overwhelmed with other needs. Still others were silent toward the media, out of fear of what others might think of how their loved one died, and buried their loved one without even an obituary. 

Many surviving families are open to sharing the story of their loved ones. But often, time is needed to allow them to gather their thoughts, and reflect on their experience. Unfortunately, we sometimes receive requests from journalists asking to speak with the family of "the most recent loss possible." We do not honor these requests and do not call families in the immediate days after someone has died.

In the immediate days and months after their loss, research has shown that family members of those who have died by suicide, are often least able to offer helpful causal information about what led to their loved one's death.Identifying  what contributes to a death by suicide is often complicated and takes time. Research shows presenting suicide in the media as an inexplicable act, can actually encourage an increase in suicides.Consequently, an emphasis on immediacy, can be detrimental to good reporting on suicide and actually cause harm.

Families who are typically best able and best equipped psychologically to not be re-traumatized by a media interview, are those who are at least a year beyond their own loss. We will assist reporters who are reaching out to a family in a respectful way to do a thoughtful story.

DOCUMENTARY FILM, BOOK & PHOTOGRAPHY PROJECTS

TAPS regularly receives inquiries from documentary film makers, book authors and photographers seeking to do projects about the families of the fallen. To help with screening these partnership requests and evaluating them efficiently, we ask those proposing new projects to fill out and submit a questionnaire. Send your completed questionnaire to ami@taps.org

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