Sunday, July 24, 2005

Choice Of Words

Flipped between all three stations tonight. Of course all three covered the heartbreaking story out of Morton. As parents of three young children, Shannon and I have the family in our thoughts and prayers tonight. As former journalists, we had the same thought that I want to share about the coverage.

Just to preface... the point of this post isn't to "call out" the person who read/wrote it and to that end, I won't specify who it was nor will I leave this post open to comment... just hoping everyone reading can take something away from this thought.

Within the story, one of the stations stated relatives "refused" to talk on camera. Maybe my wife and I are oversensitive, but we both feel "refused" needs to be reserved for describing people who may have something to answer for and don't want to do an on camera interview. The other two stations didn't even reference not having sound from the family and I think viewers get that.

This is a family who lost a child... a family whose lives have been changed for the worse forever.

Think about what's on their "radar" right now. I'm guessing giving a few soundbites for the 10:00 news isn't anywhere near it. Relatives "understandably didn't want to speak with us on camera..." would have been better.

As I said, comment section is closed on this, but e-mail me if you have a thought on this and I may consider posting it.

Update: I'm not above admitting when I am wrong. The following is a thought from WCBU news director Jonathan Ahl.


I agree “refused” might not have been the best word. I would have gone with “declined our request to talk about the incident” or something like that. But “understandably didn’t want to speak to us on camera” injects empathy into the story. I think that’s wrong, even in this case. Because if we allow empathy to enter into what we do, then where do we draw the line? If I can have empathy for the family of a dead child, can I feel for the family of a dead teenager? What if that teenager was in a gang? What if the dead teenager was shooting at a cop? What about empathy for the Oklahoma City Bombers if I agree the government is wrong and needs to be stopped? Can I have empathy for Lyn Howard if I think he did nothing wrong? Where do you draw the line and who gets to draw it?

Refused was a bad word here. But it is almost as bad to go to the other extreme. I would have either NOT mentioned there willingness/unwillingness to participate altogether, or I would have said they “declined our request for an interview” or just “did not want to talk to us on camera.” Let’s let the viewers decide if it’s understandable or not.


Also, the following was sent by a photographer who will remain nameless until I get the okay to ID that person.

I read your post on the blog and it made me think. Sometimes we get so caught up on getting sound and the best story that we forget this is a little girl and a grieving family. We treat it as a death. I didn't cover the story, but I will think about what you said when I work on stories about death. WE forget this is a person and not just a story. I feel terribly for the parents and I hate that we are now having to do stories about car safety. It is a terrible tragedy.

Good thoughts... keep em coming.

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