This is how the editorial team works in exceptional situations

We were on our way into the weekend when we received the message on Friday at 5:22 pm that there was a “rampage” in Würzburg. Within minutes, reporters, journalists, photographers, graphic designers, digital managers and chief editors come together in a digital room. The first colleagues drive to Barbarossaplatz. We see videos and pictures on social media. For us this is not yet a reliable source, a false report would now be fatal. We will create a live blog at 5:30 p.m. in which we will still ticker the latest news.

The first message that we send by push message to our readers’ cell phones is at 5.49 pm: “Avoid downtown Würzburg! Large-scale operation in Würzburg after an act of violence”. It is now clear that we have a long night and an intense weekend ahead of us. The team is sensitized and knows the rules: We do not show pictures or videos of the perpetrator because we will not give him this kind of attention and because it can motivate imitators. We only report casualty numbers and other facts when we know for sure that the information is correct. Our journalistic guidelines apply, we do not allow ourselves to be carried away by the flood of information.

On this Friday, the press office will not give the police any information until late in the evening. When we learned the information about the victims from three different, unofficial internal police sources, we published it. In addition to our own tasks, there are inquiries from other media companies. BILD would like photos of us. We don’t do it. ZDF wants to put one of our reporters on live in five minutes. Do we.

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What the reporters have to learn and describe is terrible

At some point the official information comes that the perpetrator seriously injured a young boy and killed his father or mother (that is still unclear). The police corrected themselves on Saturday: It was not a little boy, but an eleven-year-old girl who was injured. His mother was killed. What we have to experience and describe is terrible. But the team works and is on duty until midnight. A colleague says: “It wasn’t until I went to bed that I realized what happened there.”

Most of us sleep badly. It continues at 8 a.m. on Saturday. The situation is now clearer. We have time to reflect on our reporting: are we accurate? Are we striking the right note? Are we asking and answering the right questions? With the press conference of the police and the public prosecutor’s office, Saturday brings a lot of sad certainty. With such an act it is absolutely unusual that the situation is so clear after 24 hours. In terms of content, this helps the editorial team, emotionally it makes little difference.

Why we are now writing about the “perpetrator”

Planning for the print edition on Monday begins on Sunday morning. After intensive discussion, the editor-in-chief decides that from now on we will write about the “perpetrator” and no longer about the “alleged perpetrator”. With the word “presumably” a prejudice is excluded. Because in Germany suspects are considered innocent before the law until their guilt has been proven. The press code, to which our editorial team has committed itself, has exceptions: “The press may call a person a perpetrator if they have made a confession and there is also evidence against them or if they committed the act in front of the public.”

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We are planning a podcast for Wednesday in which we will provide detailed information about the work of the editorial team as a result of the knife attack. Write me what interests you. I am also looking forward to critical feedback on our work so far: [email protected]