a handbook for journalists

Written by Jane Stevens
        Edited by Lori Dorfman and Lawrence Wallack
        Research assistance by Leah Shahum
        Print version designed by Linda Lawler
            Web version designed by Peggy Skaj 


We believe that the mass media, especially the news, have a significant influence on people's beliefs and actions regarding public health and social issues. In 1993, we began studying youth and violence as part of The California Wellness Foundation's statewide Violence Prevention Initiative. It became immediately clear that few news stories on violent events included information about the precursors to violence or how such incidents could be prevented. Our analyses found that it was often what was left out - or perhaps never asked about - that was crucial for a more comprehensive understanding of the issue at hand. Our goal became to expand the range of information available to help journalists craft more meaningful stories.

This briefing book does not offer answers but suggests different questions that, when posed, may better illuminate the issue and give people better information to develop more effective policy and programs. The public health approach views violence as preventable not inevitable and seeks to alter the basic conditions in our society that give rise to and sustain its unacceptably high levels. The public health view is broad. Its practitioners certainly acknowledge a role for the criminal justice system but also recognize that the criminal justice system alone cannot solve our violence problem.

In January 1994, journalist Jane Stevens came to BMSG to interview Larry Wallack for an article on violence she was writing for Technology Review magazine. The interview was remarkable because Jane approached the story from her perspective as a science writer, asking questions that probed the complexities surrounding the study of violence as a public health issue. After the article was published, ("Treating Violence as an Epidemic," Technology Review, August/September 1994) Jane returned with a proposal to change how newspaper journalists report daily crime stories, to incorporate a public health perspective by asking questions based on scientific research. We agreed to pursue our intersection of interest: that journalists be better equipped to tell a more meaningful story about violence. The result is this book. We hope you will find it useful.

Lori Dorfman, DrPH, and Lawrence Wallack, DrPH,
co-directors, Berkeley Media Studies Group
Berkeley, California 1997

Journalists are free to use the information in this document without attribution to this publication.

For information about this document, contact the Berkeley Media Studies Group, 2140 Shattuck Avenue, Suite 804, Berkeley CA 94704 or (510)204-9700 or e-mail .

1997 by Berkeley Media Studies Group

Supported by grants from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and The California Wellness Foundation