Monday, June 13, 2005

More Complete Coverage? To What Point?

We decried it when Channel 6 sent Paul Baltes into the living room of a grieving mother back in March, so it'd be unfair to ignore the fact that both Channel 7 and Channel 3 did the same thing on Friday when they sent Brandi Petersen and Michelle Bandur, respectively, to milk the tears of a 12-year-old boy whose brother was run over by a school bus.

Gee whiz, it doesn't get much more sickening than this. Questions for news directors and assignment editors:
  • What possible "news" are you expecting to get from a boy who a day earlier had witnessed his own brother's grisly death?
  • How does this serve the community?
  • What are you thinking when you ask your people to go out and exploit a family's most vulnerable moments?
  • Would you do this to your own family?
Stories like this aren't news. They are cruelty. Stations that are continually urging viewers to "count on" them should demonstrate that they can be counted on to use some discretion in situations like this.


frankiesolich said...

I disagree with you guys on alot of matters, but Im with you completely on this one. It is NOT news, it IS cruelty. A strange competitive fever that takes over newsrooms covering tragedies like that one. Excellent point that neither ND's nor AE's would not want their families subjected to this type of reporting.

Sean Weide said...

Just to clarify, Brandi Peterson of KETV interviewed the family HOURS after the incident and aired it at 10 p.m.

Michelle Bandur's interview with the family was indeed the next day. The night of the incident, KMTV's reporter (Corey Rangel) didn't even mention the name of the child.

Midtown said...

You go to the scene... you ask the question... it's one of the hardest questions you have to ask as a reporter (if you have never done it you have no idea)... The victim's family says yes or they say no... you walk away or you do the interview.
Peterson did her job. As sad as it may sound to you... you have to knock on that door you have to ask the question (however you wish to phrase it) Would you like to talk about your child, father, wife, friend, etc. Take this, however you wish, but I believe it more than I believe the sun will rise... We have a responsibility not to interpret the news... not to issue commentary on the news... but to present the facts as we have them and to serve the public good. Interviewing the child is a horrible product of asking the question... but none of us were there... None of us would like to be in Peterson's shoes... but I tell you this to turn that story at that time with class and respect like she did proves she is becoming on hell of a journalist.

Ted Brockman said...

In no way was I suggesting that Brandi did anything unprofessional. I mean, ideally, she'd say "I'm not going to do this," but she also probably enjoys being employed, so she does it. She handled it about as well as such a thing can be.

What's aggravating is the mentality that it has to be done at all. Showing us that the brother is devastated adds nothing to the story. We knew it. If you must point out the obvious, say his brother witnessed it and is understandably suffering right now. But don't stick a camera in his face and ask him to grieve so that everyone watching can get a good look at it. It's emotional pornography.

The message Brandi should be getting from her boss(es) is "There are some things we won't do, and this is one of them. Get the information, but don't feel pressure to exploit these suffering people. If other stations want to run that sort of thing, let them, but we're not crossing that line."

In the long run, people will respect that. No one at home is going to say, "Boy, I wish we could see his family crying more," when you don't have the interview. More importantly, you, as the news director/editor/producer, can look in the mirror and know that you and your people did the right thing.

westo said...

People have a choice to say yes or no to a reporters question. I find stories like Brandi's puts a face on the death. It's not just another little kid killed. It makes it real. You want to go home and hug your kids a little tighter and remind them of the dangers of bikes in the road. Without the interview from the family you don't get the same emotional impact.

Ted Brockman said...

People have a choice, but to ask them to make that choice at their most vulnerable moment isn't fair. I don't think people who are grieving a horrible loss should be exploited so that I can feel better about my life. I can appreciate my good fortune without watching a 12-year-old sob over his newly dead brother.

Michelle Bandur said...

There is nothing I loathe more about my job, than to interview a grieving family or cover a funeral. It's difficult enough when horrible things happen to your OWN family. I'm sure Brandi would agree with me. Then why do we do these stories, you ask?
First of all,if a family doesen't want to talk..I don't push. I tell them I'm sorry for their loss and leave them alone. Justin's family had a story to tell. They wanted to share their love and grief for their family member. Justin's mother and his older brother, Jake not only had a message, but they wanted the world to know what a sweet boy they had in their life. They wanted everyone to know about Justin and for everyone to look at his adorable face. Jake asked me to tell my viewers to be watch for kids when you're out driving. Who better to send that message than someone who knows? He asked me to tell people to be careful so another kid doesn't die needlessly. It's powerful stuff. and if we, as reporters, can get one driver out there to listen to a grieving kid...and slow down and watch out... I have no trouble sleeping at night.

bandit75 said...

I think any caring parent would, like I did that night, hug their kids a little tighter than usual....even without hearing from the brother or mother. Nobody wants to report on a story like this, however, if done right it can raise awareness. One thing the local media did fail on though was not asking, 'why was a twelve year old expected to watch his five year old brother and where were the parents?' I don't know any twelve year old that can take care of themselves very well let alone another kid. The one thing that pisses me off the most about this story that none of the big three reported on was the fact that the bus was in the intersection when the boy started into the street and ran into the side of the bus just in front of the rear tires. The news made it sound like the bus driver just wasn't paying attention and pulled out in the intersection without looking. This kind of half-reporting makes the public hate the bus driver without even knowing the full story. They didn't tell you that the bus driver was so shaken up by this that his boss had to drive him home and he now refuses to get behind the wheel of any vehicle. These details, as painful as they may be to accept, are the story and paint a complete picture of this tragic event. My heart goes out to the parents, family and friends of this little boy, as well as the bus driver and his family, the kids on the bus that saw the aftermath of this accident and all the other witnesses.

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