Every day there are ethical decisions that impact the hundreds or thousands of people who watch, read, listen, and/or click on a media source. The foundation for making the right decision starts with ethics classes in college. Students in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism will use this blog to reflect on ethical questions in the media today.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Reporters Are Humans, Too
When it comes to journalism, there is a
set of ethical codes that maps out what is ethical and unethical to do while
reporting; it’s basically a journalist’s bible. It is sometimes difficult to
put a finger on what is showing human emotion and what is crossing the line of
ethical writing, however.
Anna Song, a reporter/anchor at KATU,
apparently crossed that line while reporting on the murder of two young girls
in Oregon City, Ore. Ashley Pond, 12, and Miranda Gaddis, 13, were found in the
backyard of Ward Weaver III after disappearing. Song spent months covering the
story and talking to family members and friends. According to an article by LA
times, she developed a care for them and their families and even said herself
that they touched her life during those months. When the memorial was hosted
for the girls, Song spoke heartfelt and sympathetic words.
Song was ridiculed for her supposed
unethical behavior and some felt that her speech at the memorial was unethical
due to a conflict of interest. This article
gives tips on how reporters can avoid conflicts of interest and describes
a scenario where a journalist is covering a city’s mayor. It says that it’s
okay to grow to like that person and wish them the best, but it’s not okay to
let feelings influence the way the news is covered. It also goes on to say that sources often try
to influence journalists in order to get more positive coverage. According to
the article, “If your feelings begin to
color your coverage of [a story], or render you unable to write about [it]
critically when necessary, then clearly there’s a conflict of interest.
Image via ethicsunwrapped.utexas.edu
The murder of the two girls in Oregon
had already been reported on when Song gave her speech at the memorial. She had
been covering the story for months, so how was her sympathy and heartfelt words
a conflict of interest? Wouldn’t any reporter who covered a story like so feel
something for the girls and their families? Weaver had already made himself a
prime suspect and was in jail for an unrelated rape charge, so the question of
whether or not he was guilty was not present.
Pond and Gaddis’ parents had nothing to
gain from building a relationship with Song or having her speak at the
memorial. The entire city and everyone who knew about the incident were
sympathetic themselves, Pond didn’t add to the sadness or tragedy of the
situation. No one was trying to influence her in order to get more coverage.
Sympathy and feelings in general are
what make humans. Song was not reporting or on the job when she spoke at the
memorial; that was her time to do what she wished, and she chose to speak from
her heart to the girls and to those that were affected by the loss. Song was
affected by the incident just like the town was, so when did being a reporter
mean that you had to hide your emotions? Song served as a reminder to the
public that you can be a great reporter and journalist while also showing respect
and not being afraid to show your emotions, off the clock.
Click here to read an article that supports
this idea and defends Song, or click here to read a follow-up article which includes Weaver's letters to one of the girls' sisters.