‘Credible Messenger’ program manager works to alleviate the negative impact of gun crisis reporting

Maxayn Gooden is the Credible Messenger Community Manager at the Philadelphia Center for Gun Violence Reporting.

Maxayn Gooden smiles, posing for a photo in front of a mural.

Maxayn Gooden stands in front of a mural inside the Office of Violence Prevention. (Sam Searles/WHYY)

Working on a solution to gun violence and want to share it? Get in touch with gun violence prevention reporters Sammy Caiola and Sam Searles.

Since 2015, more than 14,000 people have been shot in Philadelphia, resulting in roughly 2,800 deaths.

The Philadelphia Center for Gun Violence Reporting is attempting to tackle the problem head on by using research, community engagement, and human stories to change the way violent crimes are reported.

Maxayn Gooden, the center’s Credible Messenger community manager teaches trauma-informed reporting and helps journalists collaborate with community members on sensitive topics. Community members are matched with professional journalists for a one-on-one project that aims to amplify a story.

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“When [reporters] first reach out, [co-victims] are traumatized,” Gooden said. “Follow up later on and just see what’s going on with that family, even if it’s not reporting on a follow-up story, but just saying, ‘Hey, I reported on your daughter or your son. I just wanted to reach out to see how you were doing,’ instead of just showing up to report a story.”

The Philadelphia Center for Gun Violence Reporting recently studied what happens when victims consume gun violence news coverage. They found that including victims’ voices in news reports, doing deeper stories into the lives of victims, and refraining from depicting graphic violence would challenge journalists to focus on the response.

Gooden says she believes that episodic violence coverage needs to change.

“I feel like that puts the city in a state of fear, retraumatizing people … I don’t think it has to be reported that way,” she said. “As we see sometimes, some families don’t even know that their loved one’s been shot until it is shown on the news. And I don’t think that’s right either.”

Maxayn Gooden sits at a desk in an office, looking off to the side.
Maxayn Gooden sits at her desk inside the Office of Violence Prevention. (Sam Searles/WHYY)
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Gooden’s documentary featuring co-victims of gun violence is titled “The Lasting Impact: The emotional scars that gun violence leaves behind.” In the documentary, she and two others who have lost loved ones to gun violence tell their stories.

“I lost my son in 2017,” she said. “My whole thing is [that] people have stories to tell and a lot of times they might not know how to tell it. I just wanted to be that person.”

Ultimately, Gooden says collaboration between media and credible messengers — people who have experienced gun violence survivors or co-victims themselves — is key to both decreasing community trauma and increasing violence prevention efforts.

If you or someone you know has been affected by gun violence in Philadelphia, you can find grief support and resources online.

Sam Searles is a Report for America corps member covering gun violence and prevention for WHYY News.

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