6 Tips for Dealing with Media When a Love One Dies in War

Pfc Brandon Lucas Buttry, Jan. 10, 1993 – Nov. 5, 2012. Photo courtesy of Steve Buttry’s blog.

One of the blogs I follow – The Buttry Diary – is written by Steve Buttry, a digital journalist and trainer. Most recently, Steve took on the role as family liaison for the media when his nephew, Brandon Buttry, was killed in Afghanistan earlier in November.

Steve did it out of love and because as a journalist he felt it was one thing he could do to help the family. His experience led to these tips from his website and blog posting for relatives of the fallen, news media and military public affairs officers.

Here are a few of his tips:

  1. Designate a relative/spokesperson to deal with the media – I have written about soldiers killed in war and other sudden newsworthy deaths and I know that, however sensitive journalists try to be, we are an intrusion. But many families also want to tell the story of the person they have lost. I realized right away that I could help my family by playing this role.
  2. Initiate contact with the media – Journalists are resourceful and they will be calling people who have the family’s phone number. Or they will find family members on Facebook or will find an email address. Or they will come knocking at your door. I decided to announce Brandon’s death to the media, telling them from the first that I would be handling media inquiries and giving them my phone number and email address.
  3. Gather the facts – Get the who, what, when, where, how and why directly. Be sure to get your facts correct. Even a seemingly small error in fact in a news report might draw an emotional reaction from someone in the family. Don’t presume you know everything you think you know. I was mistaken about a detail of Brandon’s adoption and quickly corrected myself to reporters when I learned of my error (fortunately no one had reported that detail yet).
  4. What’s unique about this soldier – Consider what about your situation will make your soldier’s story stand out to the journalists: Did a parent or sibling serve in the military? Did a recent letter, email or Facebook message discuss the danger of battle (or reassure loved ones about the soldier’s safety)? Was the soldier riveted as a child by news accounts of 9/11 (Brandon was 8 at the time)?
  5. Decide how open you want to be – As a journalist, my inclination was to grant interviews with the news media and to grant access to events. But that wasn’t my call. The closest family members need to decide what they can handle and whether they want do do interviews. The person handling the media carries out the parents or spouse’s wishes.
  6. Provide photos – I would advise sending all media a half-dozen or more photos of your loved one — two or three military shots, a family photo or two and some photos of him or her as a child and teen-ager. Digital media outlets are interested in slide shows and photo galleries, and I should have been savvy enough to think of sending out more photos.

My condolences go out to the entire Buttry Family and my highest professional respect to Steve personally for stepping up and helping all news media do a better job in a time of personal family anguish. You can read his full blog entry HERE.

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One Response

  1. Thanks for passing along my tips and the link, Bobbie. I hope none of your readers needs to use them, though.

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