Friday, October 23, 2015

Fine Lines: Timeliness, Accuracy and Potential Harm

Amanda Weisbrod

With tragedy touching the hearts of the nation every day, news media’s coverage of these disparaging events is either heartless and selfish, or compassionate and healing. There’s a fine line between harming and helping, and it’s crossed much too often. 

According to an article from titled How the media treated me, reporters are faced with the issue of causing further harm to the victims of crimes and their families more than ever, especially because of the 24/7 news cycle. Donald Nibert, who lost his 16-year-old daughter in a plane crash on July 17, 1996, was outraged by the way the media treated him and his wife during their grieving process. They didn't have any time to breathe, or even process that their teenage daughter had died, before reporters began taking unwanted photos of them and calling their home repeatedly for a comment. If a reporter doesn't try to sympathize with the victims and their families, a great deal of harm can be done. However, some good can come out of speaking with those who have dealt with heartbreak and tragedy.

Bob and Pat Younts
In the same article, Bob and Pat Younts of Moore, OK lost their home to a deadly tornado that stormed through their town in 1999. But when reporters approached them about the wreckage, they were surprised at the amount of compassion they received, and completely changed their opinions on journalists as a whole. 

"It has been a wake up call for me," says Pat Younts, "in that I am as bad to stereotype the press as I think they are with others." 

For the Younts, speaking to the press about their encounter with tragedy was actually cathartic, according to They could vent to a reporter about their problems and concerns, and shedding a light on the destruction in their town actually helped more donations and supplies come in for surviving families. 

Lenny Skutnik
But in other situations, normal people are put in the media spotlight who never would have had that kind of attention if they had not experienced tragedy. Take Lenny Skutnik, for example. He was celebrated as a hero for diving into an ice-cold river to save someone's life, but he felt like it wasn't a big deal at all. He was bombarded with phone calls and reporters at his doorstep. He had never dealt with the media before, so saying this was overwhelming would be an understatement. Luckily, he went on living life like he had before his 15 minutes of fame, however, one must be careful in how exaggerated coverage of an event can cause the lives of the victims and their families to change drastically.

Maureen Kanka
In the end, news can actually cause great things to happen. According to, when Maureen Kanka's 7-year-old daughter was raped and killed by a registered child molester who lived across the street, she was determined to use the media to create change. Through her efforts and collaboration with news media, Megan's Law, named after her daughter, was passed so that all registered sex offenders must be identified publicly. 

The thin line of compassion for victims and getting the story isn't the only one that reporters must carefully trot. The issue of timeliness, competition and accuracy is also a huge one, according to's article, Crime coverage now requires constantly 'feeding the beast'. The internet and social media has turned the daily news cycle into a 24/7 operation. Deadlines have gone from hourly to every 5 minutes. In this ever-changing world of media, it's nearly impossible to not only be the first one with the story, but also have it be fully-comprehensive and correct. Incorrect information, typos and one-source stories are all too common nowadays, with the pressure of competition increasing exponentially as communication technology advances. However, it is extremely important that truth, accuracy and transparency transcend timeliness in the hunt for a good story. Because without these ethical values at the forefront, journalists will always be stereotyped as "rude, pushy and insensitive." 

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