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My “Quest” and the Future of Journalism Education

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I’m on a quest.

It’s a quest to bring responsible journalism to live-tweeting.

It’s a good quest, a quest to change the work ethos of journalists when it comes to tweeting during breaking news events. I’ve written and spoken about this topic at a number of different conferences and I’ve adopted a new tactic in my quest:  Calling out poorly reported information passed along by journalists during a breaking news event.

My quest has lead me to a few Twitter discussions with journalists during breaking  news events. Some have not received my questions well. In the rush to be first, journalists and their news organizations continue to publish false information. Joe Paterno, Gabby Giffords, Sandy Hook, Boston Marathon Bombings, Navy Yard shooting, LAX shooting, New Jersey mall shooting. The list of news events where “spaghetti-against-the-wall journalism” occurs just keeps growing.

It’s a vicious circle. Amateur journalists feed social media, social media feeds broadcast outlets, who feed Twitter….round and round we go.

But there’s hope.  Some of my former students who were working and covering the Boston Marathon bombings story were tweeting out questions about why speculation and rumor was being tweeted out by amateur and professional journalists. And, in the end, they were acting a lot more responsibly as they reported during a crisis situation.

Why were rookie reporters acting more responsibly than seasoned veterans?

Which brings me to the return of the Carnival of Journalism. David Cohn’s idea to have a group of writers blog/comment about a different topic every month is back after a bit of a hiatus and tackling a topic which is getting a lot of ink these days: Journalism Education. Specifically, the question reads:

Student news organizations have traditionally existed to give students experience before entering the workforce. The kinds of journalism jobs and journalism companies have changed considerably in the past 10 years, and most student news organizations are set up to mimic traditional print or broadcast news outlets. How would you set up a student news organization in 2013 or how could an existing college news organization modernize itself?
Issues to consider:
  • Ideally experience at a college media organization would help a student learn relevant skills for the workforce and help students land a job.
  • If you work at a news organization, what kinds of skills do you and your organization look for in new hires?
  • What kind of “clips” should college students have by graduation?
  • You can approach this as your advice to college media organizations or as if you were a theoretical adviser or manager of a student news organization. Or as a theoretical employer imagining the ideal experience a just-graduated student should have gotten.

I try to follow most of my students after they graduate, seeing where they land in the profession and watching their progress over time. Some of them have had experience working at a student-run publication, some of them have had internships and some of them have taken my Investigative Journalism class. That class partners up with a news organization each semester — and is where they get their stories published. In the past we’ve partnered with The Boston Globe and MassLive and we’re currently partnering with The Huffington Post.

There’s a lot being written these days about the future of Journalism Education. Ideas range from teaching students code, data visualization, computer programming — they all jockey for the trending subjects of the day. Which is all fine. I support all of that.

But none of it means a damn if news organizations continue to get it wrong. At times I wonder whether spaghetti-against-the-wall journalism is the wave of the future. Some think so. Gigaom’s Mathew Ingram wrote last year that:

“The way that inaccurate news reports about a mass shooting in Connecticut filtered out through social media has brought up many of the same criticisms as Hurricane Sandy — that social media isn’t an appropriate forum for journalism. But this is simply the way news works now.”

I refuse to buy that. I’m not going to throw up my hands and surrender to inaccuracies being the norm.

What I like about this current generation of students/alums, is that they really seem to get it. They understand technology. They’ve grown up with it. They understand the amplification effect provided by social media.

UMass Journalism graduate S.P. Sullivan was at the scene of the recent New Jersey mall shooting, live-tweeting for NJ.com. His first-hand reports were balanced and authoritative and a BBC producer told him that at one point they were reading his tweets on air. The importance of the moment was not lost on S.P.:

“There were hundreds of RT and mentions….kind of drives home the responsibility you have, as someone attached to a news organization and on the ground, to not tweet bullshit.”

I’m all for student news organizations training students but students really begin to realize how serious our profession is when they work together with professionals in another news organizations. That’s really where the focus needs to be. Those classes that provide partnerships also allows for training that really seems to drive home the point that speed means nothing if you get it wrong and “tweet bullshit.”

We need more of that.

Carnival of Journalism: What is ‘Good’ Journalism & A Plea for ONA to Return to its Roots

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Lisa Williams prompted one of the wildest e-mail threads I’ve part of in a while last month when she asked the simple question of what criteria the Online Journalism Awards (issued at the annual conference of the Online News Association) should be focusing on.  The exchange lead to the question for this month’s Carnival of Journalism:

Right now, nominations are open for the Online Journalism Awards.  What qualities should awards like this endorse in an era of such tremendous change in the news industry?

It’s a great question.  During the e-mail thread, I responded to Lisa’s question with:

What has really struck me about ONA in recent years, at the conference panels anyway, is the over-focus on technology over journalism.  While I love panels on the next new whiz-bang-golly-gee-feature as much as the next person, what we do is journalism.   I’ve always viewed ONA as the intersection of technology and journalism and believe that focusing on that intersection is key.  How are journalists/editors innovating not only in the production of journalism but also in the actual collection/reporting going on?   A perfect case in point is the innovation we’ve seen on the part of Andy Carvin and Nick Kristoff (not to influence the judges but these two should get some sort of award for their coverage of the Arab Spring.)  What we’ve seen from both is a change in real-time reporting — through the use of existing social media tools.   Using tools to innovate while doing journalism should be rewarded.

My comment did not sit well with Geoffrey Samek, who responded with:  “Over focus on technology? It is an award focusing exclusively on ‘online’ and a big part of that is technology and how tech changes journalism. ONLINE! Collection and innovative processes that take place in the real world are by definition offline.”

It’s an interesting comment because it points to a separation — a division between what is online and what isn’t — that many of us who have been occupying the digital news space for the past 15 years have been seeking to shed.  Granted, ONA was founded in 1999 with the idea that professional journalists that were making their way in the online sector of their news operations would have a place to gather, share ideas and award the work of their peers.  But the “online” designation seems almost moot today.  Online work is everywhere, being produced by merged newsrooms and honored by all — even the revered Pulitzer committee.  So, of course ONA honors work online — that’s where journalism is being done — and important journalism should be acknowledged.

For those who founded ONA — and those of us who have been a part of it for a while — there was always this need for legitimacy.  The Web side of news operations forming the core of ONA in the early years was (and in some cases still is) the crazy old ranting uncle part of the family.  By creating a huge awards night, ONA and its members declared that the digital crazies with their CMS, servers and crazy code languages were here to stay.  The Awards Night has grown (and changed) over time and for many remains the highlight of  ONA weekend.

But, ironically, this stepchild attitude remains and has created ONA’s need to focus on the newest shiny object.  Awards Night is actually the one point in the weekend where the focus is journalism.  In many ways, ONA weekend has developed a schizophrenic feel to it.  This split focus is an issue that ONA has been wrestling with for years now and I’m not sure what the solution is.  ONA has many audiences — technologists, editors, reporters, educators, students, entrepreneurs, business folks — so where to focus?

While ONA has a nice mission statement, it’s beginning to feel like an organization that has lost its way.  Don’t get me wrong, the annual conference is always a good time — membership numbers are strong, the conference always sells out and large tech groups are lining up to buy sponsorships.  During a time where journalism trade organizations are struggling and bickering, ONA stands alone as a success.

But in recent years the conference has taken on the feel of South By Southwest — attendees come for the party.  And, ONA puts on a great party — it’s the one time of the year that I get to hang out with some of my favorite people in the world.  But I’ve felt for a while now that ONA is missing out on some opportunities to have some serious discussions about the state and direction of journalism — not “online” journalism — but the complete whole enchilada.

Some say that news organizations have the online journalism part of the equation solved.  I’m not sure that’s the case.  What about the growing number of plagiarism cases confronting news organizations?  Ethical issues abound in the arena of social media, comments boards, news gathering — yet rarely do we have these discussions at the annual conference. What role do journalism schools play in the future of the industry?  We’ve had these historical moments in journalism with the Arab Spring  — are we going to talk about it in September? (UPDATE: The answer would appear to be a resounding Yes!)

To answer Lisa’s original question, the awards do seem to focus on the meshing of technical innovation and journalism — my only real issue is with the three-hour long awards ceremony.  It makes the Oscars seem like a fast show :)

Some of the organizations awarded last year point to a real understanding by the judges of the changing nature of the business and that’s a positive development.  Still, I hope the judges find a way this year to acknowledge the groundbreaking efforts of Carvin and Kristoff.

….I thought long and hard about writing this blog post.

I have many friends, colleagues and former colleagues who have helped form this organization into the force it is today.  My words are not meant to critique the efforts of anyone — this is a volunteer organization that thrives on the goodwill of many.  And we’ve all been a part of trying to bring change to major organizations and understand the frustrations that can occur in trying to make things happen. After several years of persistent suggestions, ONA finally agreed to setting up student clubs at universities around the country several years ago.  That’s a positive development.

I guess my hope is that ONA’s Board of Directors recognize that change is good and will help return ONA to its revolutionary roots and understand the larger impact this organization can have.  I would love to see ONA’s Board of Directors beginning to take stances on major issues outside of the conference — ONA is a force in the field but there are many issues where ONA has remained silent.  Should it begin funding partnerships between journalism schools and news organizations?  Should it become a lobbying force for journalism?  Should it start weighing in regularly on discussions and scandals within the industry?  I think so.

I remember my first ONA conference in Chicago in 2003 and the rollicking nature of the organization back then.  (I asked my old washingtonpost.com boss Doug Feaver, one of ONA’s founders, if I could attend in 2002 but he didn’t think the group would be around long enough to warrant the company funding my attendance :)

The General Excellence award winners in 2003 were an eclectic group:  ESPN.com, BeliefNet, CQ.com and the Gotham Gazette.  I remember sitting in on one panel where Jeff Jarvis spoke about the glories of blogging and how he posted one blog entry to his blog after editors at a magazine attempted to edit it.  Gasps filled the room as Jarvis said he posted his blog entry without the edits of editors.

I remember sitting in on another panel about coverage of the Iraq War and listening to a PR representative from the Army critiquing self-censorship of images by those within major U.S. media organizations.  He told the group of us that we were failing to tell the whole story if we weren’t showing the graphic images illustrating the cost of war.

Both discussions had a major impact on me as a journalist and educator.  They were discussions of substance.  I want more of them.

I want more.

The Carnival Takes Off

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I always enjoyed carnivals growing up.  You never knew what to expect — new games, rides, foods just around the corner.   And, such an eclectic group of people that often looked and acted strangely :)

I think what David Cohn had in mind when he re-started the Carnival of Journalism was bringing together a diverse group of folks who would exchange ideas and maybe shake things up in the process. Cohn got just that Wednesday when a Google Groups discussion between Carnistas ranged over a variety of topics, spanning over two days and 70 e-mail exchanges.

The extended thread prompted this reply from the rad one:  “This thread brought tears to my eyes ;)  I never want to dictate where the Carnival goes – I just wanted to create a forum where once a month we can tackle the same topic.”

It all started with a relatively simple question from Lisa Williams, one of my favorite “new media” types out there:

I’m a judge for the Online Journalism Awards this year.

When I did it last year, one of the things that captivated me was that the discussions between the judges revealed that our basic ideas of what “good” is when it comes to journalism are changing because of the web and mobile technology.

I’d love to do a question about what we SHOULD be rewarding when we’re handing out prizes for the **Online** News Association — but I need a little help writing the question.

My sense is that the Online Journalism Awards have to be about more than solid reporting or social impact; the winners should reflect what we believe is excellent in the use of the web or mobile technology, too.

A relatively simple question, but the answers prompted a conversation that spanned criteria for contests to what makes for a successful business model to Thomas Jefferson.  It was a classic “online discussion” — starting on one topic and branching off into a variety of areas.

At one point, Chris Anderson commented on the idea that innovation and experimentation were more welcome in academia than in the news industry:  “I might say that academia currently (temporarily?) has more money to do more things than the journalism profession at the moment, and that the ability to ‘innovate’ in academia is primarily (paradoxically?) a consequence of that historical anomaly known as ‘tenure.’ Since we’re going all off topic here ;-)”

Lisa’s reply:  “Off topic forever, baby!”

Lisa’s original query promoted some interesting replies, including:

Mark Plenke:

“Number one for me is using the right storytelling tool for the job. A good site uses text and graphics to explain, video to illustrate and capture action and emotion, audio to bring interviews alive, interactive graphics to illustrate a process and involve viewers, social media and polls to involve visitors and get them to participate. I think understanding this is what makes a great online editor. Too many sites don’t get this.”

Anna Tarkov made a number of interesting points during the discussion, including this:

“I would add that engaging your readers substantively (not just: send
us a photo! like us! follow us!) is important as well as being open
and transparent about the news gathering and reporting processes. This
is still mostly not done, to the detriment of both news orgs and news
consumers.”

Tanja Aitamurto sought some clear criteria:

“Whether awarding exploration i.e. trying out new things, and bringing value to journalism that way or success (usually involves risk taking than the former option): solutions where technology is used in an efficient fashion and increases transparency in journalistic practices.”

Paul Bradshaw:

“I was one of the judges on the Press Association’s Regional Press Awards and as the title was ‘digital innovation’ that’s what we looked for – something that pushed the form forward. I also took into account whether they were having to produce to a deadline (the winner was a piece of live data journalism), how sustainable the innovation was, and how it played not just online but in print as well.”

J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer made some important points along the same lines:

It seems to me that an important component is whether a new idea actually “works.”   Cool tools are nice.  Advances in new processes for doing journalism are great.  New ways to tell stories are still being invented.   But who paid any attention?  Did it actually engage audiences? Prompt interactions? Have impact?  Or are we still at risk of talking to ourselves?

University of Nebraska Dean Gary Kebbel (an ONA judge with Lisa) also weighed in on the opportunities available in academia:

“And although we at the University of Nebraska are trying to get on the innovation path, I’m regularly reminded how, well, academic, our thoughts can be when we try to tell news organizations here’s what they should be trying. But an active combo of innovative J profs who get news and digital tools and who know how to make that into digital news tools – in combination with newsroom editors grinding it out every day with no budget – seems to me a great way to work on creating the new culture of innovation and culture of constant change that we need.”

Geoffrey Samek became passionate when some (me) wondered whether ONA was becoming too focused on gadgety gimmicks:

“Over focus on technology? It is an award focusing exclusively on “online” and a big part of that is technology and how tech changes journalism. ONLINE! Collection and innovative processes that take place in the real world are by definition offline….In a world where tech is flying forward at an exponential rate, journalism’s baby-step technological advances are killing me.

Journalism is about informing the community for positive change by collecting, reporting and inevitably organizing information in compelling ways. Technology has an enormous ability to aid in the organization of information. Tech allows for assembling and displaying information in unheard of ways. When humans use new tech to do that, then they are fully taking advantage of Online Journalism.”

Michael Rosenblum suggested profitability as a criterium, which took the discussion into another direction:

“I will never understand the inherent antipathy most journalists have toward making money.  It is in our DNA, strangely, and it is incredibly self-destructive.  The ‘Internet Revolution’ took place not only on our watch but on our turf.  Most of the primary online start-ups were largely journalism/information based.  Yet we stood by idly as others benefited from 100+ years of our labor to lay the groundwork.  What is Craigslist but an iteration of the newspaper classifieds.  What is Google, in fact, but ‘all the news fit to print’.  Movies are replete with our own image of ourselves: note Russell Crowe as a newspaper journalist in State of Play:  unshaven, generally drunk, drives a crap car, hard working, dedicated but poor.  What is our problem here?  If we OWN the product we can call the shots.  And we CAN own the product.  But we have to embrace the notion of making money and building businesses as a good not an evil.”

A few took issue with Michael’s point, including myself:

“@Michael — I take your point but not sure there is the antipathy you reference today, judging by the number of pieces being written daily in the ‘Paywalls are Stupid’ vs. ‘Paywalls Will Save The World’ debate.  Making money is very much on the minds of journalists these days.  But, to get back to Lisa’s original question, we’re talking about rewarding journalism, not the making of money.  Although, I wonder whether ONA should have a separate award for ‘Innovative Business Models’ — something beyond trying to reinvent the wheel with paywalls.”

And Dan Gillmor:

“I’ve seen absolutely no evidence that the percentage of journalists who believe this (‘profit is evil’)  is higher than the percentage of the entire population that believes it.”

And Lisa Williams:

“As someone from the tech industry — where we have few of the internal conflicts about money I observe among journalists, I’m not sure that I would put profitability as a criteria for an award series about innovation.

Many people are under the misapprehension that Silicon Valley startups are primarily concerned with making money. This is not true: they’re about getting big (by growing their userbase). In fact, many “successful” startups lose huge quantities of money for years (*cough* twitter *cough*). The idea is to get big and then sell the entire company to a large publicly traded company at a profit.

That’s not always the same as making money either (witness News Corp’s buyout of MySpace, basically a billion dollars down the drain).

If Twitter was judged on the same basis as the Guardian’s local experiment, it would be history. Most mature companies and industries don’t have the stomach for five years of multimillion dollar investment at a loss that the tech industry does, particularly when there’s no exit market (who will the Guardian sell the Local to?).”

And Daniel Bachhuber:

“Responding to Michael’s point of profitability, I think a better
criterium is “viability”. News organizations should be awarded for
intelligent internal technology investments they’re committed to for
the long term. I’d love there be the proper incentives (e.g.
journalism awards) for news executives to support visions like Matt
Waite’s
.

And, much much more….

The good news?  This discussion will continue.  Lisa will be the wrangler for next month’s Carnival of Journalism.  The topic?   You guessed it….more of the same.

Twitter, Bin Laden and the Future of Journalism

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I was in a car on 9/11, stuck in traffic just outside of Washington, D.C. when I heard the news of a “commuter plane” crashing into one of the towers at the World Trade Center on WTOP — the all-news radio station in Washington and the surrounding suburbs.

I was at home in bed with a laptop, about to go to sleep as I checked my Twitter account at around 10:15 Sunday night.  After a night of reading and grading, I was beat.  As I made one last round through Twitter, I sifted through journalist types talking about President Obama’s 10:45 press conference, before coming across this tweet from Keith Urbahn, chief of staff for  former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, at around 10:25 p.m.

That was quickly followed by another aide from an intelligence committee tweeting the same, and, then, the information floodgates seemed to burst open.  Soon major news organizations were confirming on their own — FOX News and the New York Times were the first — as everyone sat around waiting for the formal announcement from President Obama.

Ten years after 9/11, I found out about Osama bin Laden’s death via Twitter — a social media tool that just wasn’t anywhere on the Web journalism radar in 2001.

I yo-yo’d between Twitter, Facebook, online news sites and cable outlets until around 1:30 Monday morning.   To watch history unfold before your eyes is just mind-boggling.  But, despite all the cheering and cheerleading,  I’ve had some mixed emotions about the news.  I spent last night and today trying to digest the events, the news coverage and the reactions from around the world.

I’m still digesting but thought I would share some thoughts:

Technology.  On 9/11, the homepage of The Washington Post’s web site was redesigned on the fly.  At the time, we thought it was a pretty major development.  As I watched the real-time reporting and analysis occur last night on Twitter and Facebook, I began to think how far journalism has come in 10 years.  There was even live-blogging going on in Pakistan during the firefight.

The barriers to entry are gone and the news comes at you early and often with social media.  I evangelize about the possibilities of social media at every turn.  There are still those who wish to ignore it but, honestly, it’s their loss and I grow weary of talking to people who question that serious journalism can happen with a word like “tweet.”  Twitter and social media are the future of news distribution.  Get used to it.

Politics.  It’s a bit disturbing how quickly some folks today were drooling about the political prospects for Obama’s re-election, in light of the Bin Laden news.  It’s evidence  yet again of how divided this country has become since 2000.

More TK…..

Plagiarism, Parenting and the great David Broder

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Some  updates:

*  Poynter: Are there ways for academics and newsrooms to collaborate on newsroom standards?

*  Daily Hampshire Gazette: Parenting in a new media world.

And, in case you missed it, there were many great tributes after the death of former Washington Post columnist David Broder, including a couple from some friends:

Charles Babington

*  Dan Balz:  David Broder’s remarkable life and career

*  Mark Stencel:  Broder’s Shift Key:  An Unlikely Online Makeover

Also, Mark passed along one of the great quotes from Broder:

“I would like to see us say — over and over, until the point has been
made — that the newspaper that drops on your doorstep is a partial,
hasty, incomplete, inevitably somewhat flawed and inaccurate rendering
of some of the things we have heard about in the past 24 hours –
distorted, despite our best efforts to eliminate gross bias, by the
very process of compression that makes it possible for you to lift it
from your doorstep and read it in about an hour. If we labeled the
product accurately, then we could immediately add: But it’s the best
we could do under the circumstances, and we will be back tomorrow with
a corrected and updated version.”

Indeed.

Joining the Carnival of Journalism: The Changing Role of Universities

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My good friend David Cohn (aka DigiDave) has revived the Carnival of Journalism, with the opening blog topic of: The changing role of Universities for the information needs of a community.

To quote Dave, what a “rad” idea.  In his opening blog entry, Dave writes:

    One of the Knight Commission‘s recommendations is to “Increase the role of higher education…..as hubs of journalistic activity.” Another is to “integrate digital and media literacy as critical elements for education at all levels through collaboration among federal, state, and local education officials.”

As one who has written about the intersection of academia and the profession often, I’ve kicked around how exactly to approach this initial blog post.   Increasingly, I believe universities have a major role in news literacy and returning journalism to the principles of the “past.”  The  behavior of news organizations in the initial coverage of the Tucson shootings got me thinking again to how off course many mainstream news organizations are in the quest to get the great “scoop.”

We’ve all read about the disastrous breaking news coverage, in which NPR, CNN and others mistakenly reported that Rep. Gabrille Giffords had died.  After the fact, Alicia Shepard, NPR’s omudsman, deconstructed how NPR’s shoddy reporting happened and its effect on the families involved.  But, in a Facebook posting prior to her report, Shepard said the erroneus report was “only” up for about 15 or 30 minutes.

And in one early tweet captured by several, NPR’s David Folkenflik attempts to explain the erroneus reporting through human assumptions:

    “That said, if bullet goes entirely through someone’s head, not hard to believe eyewitnesses might be convinced she was dead & say so (more).”

The message to journalism students should be simple:  Speed Kills.  In this case, speed killed the reputation of NPR, CNN and others.

It isn’t news that Twitter has dramatically changed the journalistic playing field.  The ability to transmit news instantly is tantalizing. We need to teach students that just because you can post NOW doesn’t necessarily mean you should.  Stop.  Think. Report. Write….then, maybe, you Tweet.

The need to be first, compounded by cable television’s 24-hour desire for images and anything close to news has created an environment where reputable news organizations are now reporting faulty information in the quest to be first.

It’s not Ok to be wrong.  Even if it’s “only” for 15 minutes.

It’s not Ok to assume a shot to the head means death.  Sometimes people survive.

My old boss at The Washington Post’s Web site was fond of saying “I would rather be second and right than first and wrong.”

Sure, universities need to be hubs for their communities but we educators to begin the quest to end “spaghetti against the wall journalism.”  Let’s stop throwing news against the wall and seeing what sticks.  Let’s preach about the need to make sure what we’re reporting is right.

Should you always publish a video?

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I wrote this colmn for the Daily Hampshire Gazette this week:

AMHERST – When the judge in the involuntary manslaughter trial of former Pelham Police Chief Edward B. Fleury ruled this week that video of the accidental shooting of 8-year-old Christopher Bizilj would be available to the media, I winced.

As a father of three, I carry a bias into this discussion. My knee-jerk, visceral reaction to the decision by Judge Peter A. Velis on Monday was twofold. First, I wondered how seeing such a video could not sway a jury and second, I wondered whether I would publish the video.

I spent Monday contacting friends – those still in the business, as well as fellow educators and media ethicists. Out of the nearly dozen people I spoke with, there was unanimity in the belief that there was little news value in publishing the video.

I’ve always believed in the power of images. I teach a multimedia course where students learn to create packages pairing the power of words with visual storytelling. Today, the new wave of storytelling includes audio slideshows and mini-documentary videos that can be found on news Web sites. Some sites provide raw, uncut video and images of news events. For those interested in bypassing the gatekeeper, you can go see graphic images.

It hasn’t always been this way. When I got my first newspaper job 25 years ago, the standard for newspapers was to not run shots showing blood on A1. Editors and publishers didn’t want to jolt readers over their morning coffee.

As an editor at The Washington Post’s Web site, I remember being part of a huge debate over whether to show images of the death and destruction following the 1998 embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya.

I argued against using the photos, but in the end, we decided there was news value in showing some of the reality of the attacks.

We had similar conversations during the attacks on 9/11 – especially on what to do with pictures of people jumping out windows of the Twin Towers. In that case, my colleagues and I felt the news value of those photos were not enough to outweigh the tragic circumstances behind them.

For me, a huge turning point came at the start of the Iraq ground war. During a debate on press access at a conference, a PR representative for the Army argued that access wasn’t the issue. He argued that U.S. media organizations opted to not publish photos showing the true cost of war. He was right, and it changed my perspective. In more cases than not, I now opt for transparency – for showing the reality via video or pictures.

This is not one of those cases.

Showing this video seems to border on the obscene. I’m not sure anyone needs to see this. The words alone depict a parents’ worst nightmare.

Will the video get out there? Undoubtedly. Such is the cost of living with a free press.

But, would publishing the video in this case force a real debate on gun control? I’ll admit, I don’t understand the gun culture that dominates this part of the country. I have many friends who are hunters and who have guns in their homes. I respect their right to hold their views but guns do not reflect my own values.

And, it’s just mind-boggling to me that a submachine gun would end up in the hands of an 8-year-old at a shooting range.

Does the potential for a gun control debate here create news value for the video?

I don’t think so.

Karen List, the director of the UMass journalism program and a media ethicist, says the debate over gun control will take place because of the tragedy behind this story, regardless.

Let’s hope so.

The debate should take place because a child died, not because of a video.

Steve Fox is a full-time lecturer and the multimedia journalism coordinator for the UMass Journalism Program. He has been a journalist for 24 years, including 10 years at the Washington Post’s Web site.

 

 

 

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