Reporting on Road Safety: A Guide for Journalists

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Subtitle: 
And 16 Story Ideas
Publication Date
Publication Date: 
January 1, 2015

"This guide is the result of four years of investment working with media on road safety in ten countries. "

Produced jointly by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pulitzer Center, with financial support from Bloomberg Philanthropies, this guide was written with the hope of increasing interest in writing on road safety and contributing tools for monitoring road safety. Road safety workshops were held in 10 countrysides with over 1300 journalists participating. The experiences and lessons learned from these workshops with journalists and editors, in particular those from low- and middle-income countries form the basis for the guide and its accompanying pamphlet entitled 16 story ideas. Readers will find links to stories, suggestions for new angles, descriptions of projects, and tips from editors, journalists, and public health experts to enhance reporting on road safety. A series of road safety fact sheets and an interactive website, "Death on the roads" add information designed for use by journalists, editors, or the public.

Because a high annual global death toll on the road has generated not only health but also economic concerns, these crashes being considered “poverty-inducing” crises, with impacts felt for generations, journalists have the opportunity to address road safety as a pubic safety concern. "Low- and middle-income countries have about 50% of the world’s vehicle traffic but nearly 90% of the traffic deaths. "

A complaint of journalists is that traffic crashes are not newsworthy. The guide contains, "among other stories, why an editor of The Guardian thinks that road safety is worth covering, how a free-lance journalist successfully pitched his road safety and health story to Time and how a BBC journalist turned complex traffic data into a road safety media project that received 1 million hits." The chapters include:

  • "examples of how different reporters and news organizations have placed individual stories about road traffic fatalities in a broader, more meaningful context; tips from editors, journalists and road safety experts on new ways to cover this topic; and
  • resources and tools that can add depth to your road traffic stories."

The articles describe new hooks and human interest angles, for example: "We commissioned a video journalist to ride with Mexico’s “alcoholímetro” squads, who were trying to curb drink– driving in Mexico City’s party areas, and teamed an award-winning photographer with a disabled Kenyan road safety activist to create a beautiful audio slideshow from Kenya’s one and only spinal cord injuries clinic." Tips include: 

  1. Make a fact sheet that you can keep with you when talking to editors about your stories... 
  2. Make these statistics mean something by putting them into the contex of development goals to give a wider picture of how road traffic deaths compare with other global epidemics...
  3. Ask why...
  4. Avoid the use of too many technical terms....
  5. Think about the context... 
  6. Press home the need for road safety to be a priority in post-2015 development targets...
  7. Find the human story....

The articles describe how to pitch a story to editors and how to make style changes to writing.  Innovative projects that were getting the attention of large numbers of readers are reviewed as examples, for instance, an interactive online map with  data in graphs showing the number of fatal crashes over a typical 24-h period, crash patterns over a typical week and how these varied with the age of the victims that could be embedded in infographics, coupled wiht human interest stories. This journalist also created an online "live" page to follow a London ambulance service for 24 hours.

Key concepts for story angles are described in detail with links to story examples, including the following:

  • Road traffic crashes are not accidents:
    • Story angle 1: Road traffic crashes are one of the deadliest killers of the modern age.
    • Story angle 2: Road traffic injuries affect overall quality of life. 
    • Story angle 3: Public health systems are strained by road traffic injuries.
  • Road safety and road users
    • Story angle 1: Certain groups are much more vulnerable to road traffic injuries. 
    • Story angle 2: Interest groups and advocacy organizations can bring a new perspective to familiar problems. 
  • Road safety legislation
    • Stories triggered by road traffic crashes 
    • Stories pegged to new proposals or legislative bills 

      The document concludes: "There is no shortage of opportunities and openings to write about road safety. Your task is to find the right people, ask the right questions and present the story with the urgency it deserves."

      The booklet 16 Story Ideas accompanies the guide.

      Number of Pages: 

      60 pages - the Guide; 12 pages - the Stories

      Source: 

      Email from Elena Altieri to The Communication Initiative on December 11 2016, and WHO website, February 13 2017.

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