Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Media and Victims

Allison Brunenemister

The news cycle for our modern day is a 24/7 cycle. Breaking news is around every corner. Editors now have near minutes to decide whom and what to report on. This tragic case highlights the dilemma of how to report on the victim.

We, as journalists, walk a very fine line when it comes to reporting on the victims in the media. As journalists we try to focus on minimizing harm for the victim, while giving our readers the full and fair story.  Victims of tragedies often become overnight “celebrities” in our world. Where is the line drawn on respecting their privacy, but also reporting a good story?

 Source: Google Imagines

The Good
The media is not always a bad thing. There have been many times when a victim or a victim’s family has used the media spotlight to shed light onto the issue.  They use the media as a voice to share their own thoughts and opinions. Take, for example, the Conradt family of Oregon. Their son Max was a football star. During a game in 2001, Max suffered from a concussion that caused permanent brain damage.  This family and friends used the media to draw attention to the issue.  The were able to use the media to gain support for  “Max’s Law” which requires coaches to have annual training on how to recognize concussion symptoms and remove an athlete suspected of a concussion.

The Bad
The cameras are always rolling when it comes to news. Sometimes though it is not so great for the victims. As journalists, we must try to keep the victims feelings in the back of our head while reporting and to keep in mind that the victim is still trying to cope with something horrible that has happened to him or her.  Unfortunately, this does not always happen. Take, for example, the shootings at Sandy Hook in Newtown, CT. One of the victim’s mothers wrote a blog on the 1-year anniversary of the tragedy. In the blog she says, "I will be honest, I hate when the media comes into town. I don't like seeing their vans with large satellite dishes parked on every corner. I don't like reporters bothering me to comment or give interviews about the 'latest' findings with the case. I don't like seeing my daughter's picture on the news associated with her violent death. “.

The media often times can open up old wounds that the victims are trying to heal from.

What do we do?
So how do we handle this? How can we not hurt the victim, but still report on the facts? Frank Ochberg, a professor at the Michigan State University School of Journalism, runs the Victims and Media Program. In a blog post, he explains that we must take the greatest care of our victims. He wrote that we must defend the victim first, before we can take action.

 I believe that when deciding to report on a victim, you must consider the victim first. We must decide if this report is going to harm the victim more than help. This will then allow for the reporting of the story in the most sensitive nature.

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