Thursday, September 3, 2015

Give The People What They Want

Sheldon Good

The news as sensationalism

 The nation was recently shocked by the killing of a reporter and her cameraman as they did a live TV broadcast. Alison Parker and Adam Ward were shooting an interview in southern Virginia when a former station employee shot both of them to death on the air. The shooter, Vester Lee Flanagan II, recorded the murders and posted video of the shooting from his point of view to social media.  Mr. Flanagan played into our natural desire to witness and perhaps our cultural fascination with violence, knowing that people would not be able to resist viewing the shooting. Although his posts were quickly removed from Facebook and Twitter, the videos were already in the ether, downloaded and distributed by many. The news media were forced to decide whether to play into his hand by showing his videos or deny him the attention he wanted by focusing on his victims.

WDBJ-7, the television station from which the journalists were reporting, inadvertently broadcast the shooting on their own camera, by Mr. Flanagan’s design. For other news media outlets the ethical dilemma arose of what or how much of the murders they would show. The killer’s own graphic  video was also available to show viewers. Should it be shown or not?

image from WDBJ-TV, via Associated Press

  Newspapers and television stations exercised their journalistic conscience in different ways when it came to the appropriate level of detail of the attack that should be shown. Many outlets chose to emphasize the journalists who were slain, showing images of them vibrant, alive.

The New York Times ran a still image from Ms. Parker’s interview, although they did provide a link to another site with video footage. An editor from the Times stated the paper choose not to run the “deeply disturbing images that showed the act of killing.” George Stephanopoulos, on ABC ‘World News Tonight’ said the they had wrestled with the decision of “whether to grant the gunman his last wish by playing his video.” “We will not.” NBC used stills from Mr. Flanagan’s video from the moments before he raised his gun. CBS chose to play the video itself, stopping it before the shooting began. The president of the network defended playing the video clip, saying his network takes a harder approach, and that protecting viewers from the graphic scene wouldn't help their understanding of events.

The New York Daily News received a lot of criticism for running a cover with stills from Mr. Flanagan’s video that appear to show Ms. Parker at the moment she was shot. The public and other news outlets criticized the Daily News quite roundly for the graphic images with some people advocating a #boycottnydailynews hashtag on Twitter. Critics accused the paper of sensationalizing the murders and exploiting the victims. A editor from the Dallas Morning News said there were a “hundred journalistically responsible ways” to communicate the horror of the events without resorting to the New York Daily News’ approach.

Where then is the line between reporting the news and simply using shock value to drive sales? Journalism tends toward the exploitative by its very nature necessitating an organizational and personal conscience toward what is and is not acceptable or newsworthy. “In the end journalism is an act of character” and I think the outcry over the depiction of this tragedy shows that journalism’s character is still alive and well.

No comments:

Post a Comment