Tuesday, March 29, 2005


Being Paul Baltes can't be easy tonight. Imagine going home at the end of your day, saying to yourself, "Today, I was able to exploit a woman's grief and get her to sob uncontrollably on camera. Then, to top it off, I managed to parlay all that sadness into a two or three minute story. Man, am I proud of my work!"

If you didn't see it, WOWT's 6 p.m. newscast featured Baltes interviewing the mother of 18-year-old Amanda Garcia, who was killed in a car crash yesterday. Garcia's infant daughter Evalin was injured in the crash, but survived. We can't imagine what the pretense of the interview was, but the story was little more than tape of a grief-stricken woman's misery and occasional shots of Baltes sitting on a nearby couch, apparently egging her on.

Can someone please explain what the news value of this story was? Instead of trying to skillfully weave the woman's remarks into a piece with some larger point, Baltes opted to take the easy route, using way more of the interview than was necessary or tasteful. When someone is that vulnerable, couldn't stations either keep a respectful distance, or, if invited in by the interviewees, use some discretion in what they air?

This story represents much of what's wrong with broadcast journalism today, and viewers in Omaha should demand better. Perhaps that's what they've been doing in relieving Channel 6 of its first-place position during the past two sweeps periods.


Luke said...

A couple of years ago, I fancied myself a wannabe true crime writer. I tracked down the detective on a particular murder case I thought had potential to be "book material."

It only took one brief parlay with the detective talking about the family and their grief (the victim was a teenage girl raped and murdered) that I decided that I didn't have the ability to feed on the carrion of a family's emotions to gain fame and fortune.

I can't understand why a news team would rush over to someone's house and shove a camera in their face and ask them inane questions about a death in their family.

Then again, one has to wonder about people willing to go on camera at that time either.

Ted Brockman said...

The view here is that the family gets a free pass. They're mired in grief and want to talk to someone, perhaps to feel like they're honoring the loved one's memory or just to feel like they're being heard. Whatever the motivation, their actions come at a time of great vulnerability when they may not be making the best decisions. In those situations, it is incumbent upon the newspeople to exercise restraint and good taste.

Luke said...

"The view here is that the family gets a free pass. They're mired in grief and want to talk to someone, perhaps to feel like they're honoring the loved one's memory or just to feel like they're being heard."

Without question. Harkening back to my first comment, giving voice to the victim or honoring them is partly the reason why true crime novelists even get in the door to talk to the victim's families.

Good journalists can do this as well, but that's not what I saw from Slappy and the Happy Dance News Crew and their Jr. High AV Media attempt at creating a story.

This seemed more like exploitive and callus opportunism than a newsworthy endeavor.

My "one has to wonder" line was more of a testament of personal musing whether I would allow a news crew into my home if there wasn't a direct community benefit (e.g. calling attention to a bad traffic signal). Indeed, my intention was not to openly wonder if the family was grandstanding.

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