Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Getting involved: Where to draw the line?

By: Shelby Dermer

Whether it is flirting with a married woman or answering your wife when she asked where the in-laws are going to stay when they visit for the holidays, it’s best to not get involved.

Thus can also be true for journalists, whom possess an unwritten rule to report a story bias-free and without getting involved to the point that it impacts the covering of a story.

This rule in crucial for all journalists, because no one wants the credibility of a story tarnished by someone’s biased thoughts on the subject matter at hand.

But where do you draw the line?

Anna Song was in the center of breaking this rule in 2002.

Song, a member of the KATU news team, covered a story where two Oregon City local girls went missing. Ashley Pond, 12, and Miranda Gadpis, 13 each went missing in an eight-month span, before their bodies were discovered in the backyard of 39-year-old Ward Weaver III.

The ceremony for the two victims took place in late August at the town’s high school, and among many others, Song was present and gave a speech. 

Song’s speech to the many viewers that night at the high school and on television went on for five minutes, as her peroration mentioned that the two girls touched her life throughout the time the local authorities were searching for them.

Throughout a heartwarming speech, Song was sincere with her condolences, and no one could question how much these girls meant to her.

But did Song break a rule?

Many may say that Song did, in fact, break a code that a reporter should be remained unbiased throughout the story.

Naysayers to Song may say that because she didn’t know the families personally before they were brought into the media spotlight, she shouldn’t have spoken at the ceremony because her relationship with the victims and their families were only founded because of her coverage of the story.

But where’s the line?

In my opinion, it would be even more alarming if Song wasn’t this touched by the story. Song conducted an interview with Miranda at a bus stop when Ashley had first gone missing, only to discover that the innocent girl that she interviewed about a missing friend also went missing and eventually suffered the same cruel fate.

It is extremely difficult to put myself in Song’s shoes when I think about what she must have been going through at such a melancholy period.

NPR ran a story in 2006, pondering the question if their reporters were getting too involved when it came to the covering of their stories.

The article mentions the story of journalists Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, who reported a story of a family from Central America who were taking enormous risk trying to reach the U.S-Mexico border.
In the story, Navarro mentioned a member of the family using a borrowed cell phone to call her brother in the United States.

NPR correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro was at the center of ethical limits when she was accused of getting too involved in a story about a Central America family attempting to reach the U.S-Mexico border. (Photo: NPR.org)
One listener questioned if the cell phone used belonged to the reporter, and why that would be unethical because she is getting involved in the story itself.

This got me thinking to earlier this week, when my class was honored to have Ohio University-grad Melanie Sanders come speak to our group of inspiring journalists.

Sanders mentioned that an article titled, "Married to the Media," was written about her involvement in her husband’s campaign for Mayor.

Sanders was not part of the media coverage of the campaign, but just her presence in the media laid the foundation for an article to bash her being biased while her husband was on the campaign trail.

In each of these three circumstances, reporters did get involved, that is not up for discussion.

But when it comes to human kindness and emotion, I say that is where the line is drawn. These three journalists got involved in their respective stories, but I don’t see why they would be considered, “rule-breaking.”

Song grew close to the families of the victims in a town where she is from about a story that, in all sense of the phrase, hit close to home.

I feel as if Sanders was simply supporting her husband about what he stood for, and why he would make a good fit for public office.

Though a reporter should never get too involved, some acts are morally justified.

That’s where you draw the line.


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