Reporting the death knock: ethics, social media and the Leveson Inquiry

  The aim of this thesis is to understand the current practice in death knocks among print journalists and the ethical implications of reporting death and whether limitations are placed on the practice by reducing newspaper budgets. It will explore the pressures print journalists face when reporting death at a time when the public perception of journalists is at an all-time low. It will discuss the use of social networking sites when reporting death and will examine the prevalence of the digital death knock and the reasons journalists have turned to the internet. In order to fully understand the current practice it is necessary to assess the ethical implications and therefore it is important to discuss the impact of the Leveson Inquiry on journalism practice.
Six journalists were identified to represent a range of newspaper journalism: tabloid, broadsheet, weekly and regional reporting. A news agency journalist and a freelance reporter were also interviewed. They were questioned about how they report death, on their feelings about carrying out both traditional and digital death knocks, the impact the practice has had on them, their justification for approaching grieving relatives when covering death stories, their reasons for carrying out a digital death knock over the traditional practice and the ethical implications of doing so. They were also asked what impact the Leveson Inquiry and newsroom culture has had on death reporting.
The research found that the death knock remains an essential part of reporting death, is mostly justified and ensures accuracy. The digital death knock is prevalent with all the interviewees acknowledging that they are relying increasingly on social media. It seems that newsroom culture is largely responsible for the use of technology in reporting death - respondents stated practices have been affected by budget and staff cuts at a time when there is increasing pressure to multi-task. The digital death knock is not used as an avoidance tactic and the journalists had no ethical concerns about lifting information from ‘public’ sites. The Leveson Inquiry had little impact on their practices but two respondents stated they now had to ‘be seen to be doing their job properly

  • Dates:

    2012 to 2015

  • Qualification:

    Master's Degree (MSc/MA by research)

Project Team

Outputs