The 9/11 Anniversary Isn’t News? Says Who?


So, on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, the editors at the almighty New York Times don’t think there is enough news value to warrant any 9/11 anniversary coverage on the front page of their newspaper.

In an online discussion with Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenore, Margaret Sullivan, the new Public Editor for the Times says she spoke with two key editors “and they explained that their decisions were driven by news value and by the fact that this is the 11th anniversary, after an elaborate effort last year.”

Not news?

In New York City?


Talk about disconnect.

The good news is that at least The Times didn’t feel breast implants merited A1 coverage today.

I just don’t buy this defense.  Even the Times realized it WAS news today….because there was 9/11 coverage on the Web site for most of the day. And, given the millions of people who come to the Web site every day, whose to say that the A1 editors for The Times dictate what is news anyway?

And, as I wandered  through my Facebook and Twitter feeds today, it seemed that many people disagreed with the “it’s not news” designation.  My twitter feed has been churning away with the “#remember911″ hashtag for much of the day.  But the esteemed editors at The Times probably think Twitter isn’t news either.  This notion that the almighty editors within closeted offices at hallowed newspapers are the ones determining the news proves again the quaint and antiquated nature of many news organizations in the year 2012.

The difference these days is that people don’t seek the guidance of The Times news editors — or any editors for that matter — to designate what is and isn’t news.  They go find the news themselves.

I don’t know why this bothers me so much. It really shouldn’t — the arrogance of this type of thinking from newspaper folks has driven many businesses aground.  But I worry that The Times editors — and many journalists out there — are missing a real opportunity.  “Anniversary stories” are rarely a plum assignment.  It’s easy to fall into a formulaic trap with the storytelling….but there is also a real chance here for journalists to continue educating, investigating and reporting out stories on 9/11.  Kudos to The Times for running such a story today — on the dangers of small ideologically-driven groups controlling the White House — even if it wasn’t on the front page.

Newspapers and news organizations are also a place for people to learn about history — in order that we not repeat it.  Yes, we need to avoid saturation coverage — but the coverage can’t just disappear. I asked my son — a freshman in high school — what he was going to be doing today in school regarding 9/11 discussion.  He said: “Nothing.  We did a lot last year but that was only because it was the tenth anniversary.”  Such a mentality is a dangerous, slippery slope.

UMass Panel to Look Back at 9/11 Attacks on 10-Year Anniversary

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(Updated: Aug. 29)

Mark Stencel, the managing editor for Digital News at NPR, will join a group of University of Massachusetts educators on Sept. 8 to take part in a panel discussion looking at how the U.S. and the world has changed in the decade since the 9/11 terror attacks.

“The terrorist attacks of 2001 and the beginnings of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq came as newsrooms were still grappling with what exactly it meant to be Web publishers,” said Stencel, who was an editor at The Washington Post’s web site on 9/11.

“At the time, our interactive online channels were still relatively new. For many of us, these channels for the first time provided global reach around the clock — including a new workday news audience — as well as nearly unlimited potential to dabble in new formats. But there were consequences: Newsrooms had accelerated deadlines and new competitors.
And we faced difficult questions about accuracy and what NOT to report.”

The panel, entitled “After the Towers Fell: A September 11th Retrospective,” will be held at 4 p.m. on Sept. 8 in the Campus Center Reading Room on the campus of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

“This panel discussion will be of great interest to anyone whose life was changed by 9/11–which means everyone,” said Karen List, director of the Journalism program.

The panelists for the event are: David Kotz from the Economics Department; MJ Peterson from Political Science; Linda Tropp from Psychology and Stencel. The panel will be moderated by Steve Fox of the Journalism Program, also a former editor for The Post’s web site.

Peterson will discuss the Bush administration’s response to the attacks; Kotz will look at the economic consequences of the attacks in the past decade; and Tropp will talk about general social psychological processes involved in group categorization.

A reception will follow the panel discussion. The panel is sponsored by the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the Journalism program, and the Departments of Political Science, Economics and Psychology.

Headed to AEJMC as New Journalism Conference Zeroes in on Education


If it’s August, it must be conference season.
I fly out (early) tomorrow to St. Louis for the AEJMC conference — also known as the annual geek gathering of journalism educators and researchers. It’s also the first of three conferences I’m attending between now and the end of September (as well as moderating a one-night panel at UMass on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11.)
The busy start to the Fall semester pretty much made it impossible to attend the newest player on the journalism conference front:  Journalism Interactive: The Conference on Journalism Education & Digital Media at the University of Maryland on Oct. 28-29.  The conference is the brainchild of U-Md. Dean Kevin Close and John Jenkins, the president of CQ Press and looks promising.
“The reason for the conference is to encourage dialogue between journalists, scholars and educators about how journalism schools are incorporating emerging media into their curricula,” says Leslie Walker, one of the co-chairs of the conference.
“The rapidity of change in news is putting pressure on educators to anticipate a future that remains murky. So we think journalism educators need more opportunities to network with peers at other schools to identify promising emerging forms of storytelling, share new teaching approaches to digital media, discuss results of curriculum change and prioritize research questions.”
That’s a space occupied by many — including AEJMC, Poynter and ONA — so it will be interesting to see watch this effort.  While going to another conference with a Jeff Jarvis keynote may turn off some, the roster of speakers is impressive and includes the likes of:  Wisconsin’s Katy Culver and Stephen Ward; Duke’s Sarah Cohen; CUNY’s Jeremy Caplan; ASU’s Retha Hill; UBC’s Alfred Hermida; and Ju-Don Marshall Roberts of Revolution Health.
Walker (a former colleague at washingtonpost.com) says one of the goals of the conference is to create a place for educators to exchange ideas in an environment that seems to be changing constantly. That’s something I’ve wanted ONA to do for a few years now and I’ve been vocal recently about the over-focus on technology with ONA.
The cross-over is something Walker recognizes but she says there is enough room for all groups to co-exist:
“I’ve attended ONA and AEJMC conferences, and think their conferences and training programs are terrific. This is a smaller, more narrowly focused event than those are. We are more focused on education and classroom strategies than ONA, and more focused on digital media than the broader AEJMC conference can afford to be. We are hoping this can complement both AEJMC and ONA and would like to work with their memberships to make sure it’s not duplicative but complementary.”
I wish Leslie and all those involved the best of luck.
Meanwhile, I’m on two panels at AEJMC:  One on sports bloggers and one on how newsrooms and academia can collaborate.  I’ll post more after each panel.
AEJMC is always interesting because of the mix of new school and old school thinking.  But, I’ve been surprised at the number of panels and papers covering new media topics on the schedule.  That’s a good thing….and shows some distinct progress at AEJMC over the past several years.  But, we’ll see.  In recent years, there have been a good number of panels and panelists bemoaning the state of the industry, rather than seeing the creative possibilities.
My friend George Daniel at the University of Alabama provides a nice look at expectations with this blog post, and includes hopes of talk about the possibilities of social media as well as “Strategies for Combating the Mythology about the End of Journalism.”
I’ll give both a big HUZZAH!
More TK…..

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…..

Media Reform: Look to Curation, Innovation to Bring Change

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Somewhere during the run-up to the 2000 election, I remember legendary Washington Post columnist David Broder writing about the increasing split within the country along the Blue (liberal) – Red (conservative) divide.  I guess what I saw this weekend at the National Conference on Media Reform is a reaffirmation that the divide is alive.

This was a conference for the like-minded where bashing the media was second only to booing conservatives.

There was no denying the political undercurrent that was present throughout most of the conference.  Which I guess was to be expected.  But the underlying message — at both panels and on the conference Twitter feed — was that big media was failing and that somehow that failure allows the conservative message to gain more traction.  The irony is, conservatives say the same thing.

So, when we talk about “media reform,” what exactly are we talking about?  In the end, it really comes down to two things:  What the media is covering and how they are covering it.

Yet, for all the talk about reform this weekend, I’m not sure many attendees at this weekend’s conference understand the power that they have.  The focus seemed to be more on the failure of major print and television news organizations rather than the possibilities available to all through online journalism (or new media if you prefer.)

At several sessions Saturday attendees heard some optimism — and some key phrases.  Here’s a key-word rundown and what they could mean for true media reform:

No barriers to entryASU’s Dan Gillmor started the day talking about how the barriers to entry into journalism are gone.  David Cohn ended the day at his panel talking about how the barriers to entry into journalism are gone.  In simplest terms, that means if you think there is not enough coverage on a particular issue, then you can provide it.  Pick your issue, start your blog, shoot video to put on the blog and start engaging with your audience about the issue.  There was much passion at this conference.  Take all that passion and apply in to a blog.  Make the passion work for you!  It’s better and more productive than whining endlessly about the state of the media.

Collaboration.  The old models are disappearing.  It’s no longer a one-way conversation.  If you approach a news organization and say you want to write a blog for them, or provide photos or other content, chances are they will say yes.   The same goes for journalism schools — more and more journalism schools are searching for issues to have their students report on.

Curation.  For me, the best session today was listening to NPR’s Andy Carvin and others talk about the power of Twitter.  If you aren’t following @acarvin on Twitter, you should.  Since the uprising in Egypt, Carvin, along with Nick Kristoff of the New York Times have been transforming real-time reporting before our very eyes.  Carvin sees himself as a real-time Twitter news anchor, sifting through eyewitness report to determine what is accurate and what is rumor.   The future lies with online journalism and revolutionaries like Carvin.  If you’re looking for media reform, watch what Carvin is doing.

The Next Generation. Finally, the last panel of the day Saturday featured David Cohn and Jackie Hai in a panel titled “Journalism Next” focusing on what these young entrepreneurs are doing.  Jackie is a UMass Journalism alumnae who took my first Multimedia Journalism class at UMass and I’ve known David for more than four years, since we worked together on newassignment.net.  They are each involved in exciting projects and see nothing but hope for the future.  Follow their work.  Both are deeply immersed in the online journalism space and are part of the group of great innovators reforming media.

Journo Bashing Dominates Day 1 at NCMR

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After Day 1 at the National Conference for Media Reform Friday, one young journalist told me that she felt like the enemy.  Indeed.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this conference.  Partly because when we talk about “media reform” it’s kind of like talking about ice cream with your cake.  Who doesn’t want it?

But, the danger behind that phrase is that the conversation quickly turns into a highly critical one and the conversation turns to media-bashing.  But, hey, media-bashing is fun.  We all do it.  I think it’s in line to become an Olympic sport.  Journo-bashing reached crescendo levels with Glenn Greenwald’s comments about the New York Times and Bill Keller And, while Greenwald’s comment about Keller’s “pristine socks” was amusing, his commentary did little to critically analyze the role of the mainstream media in the Wikileaks dumps, the future of such dumps and how they should be handled.   It could have been a pretty good conversation.

Journo bashing is cheap.

It’s low-hanging fruit.

And, honestly, it does little to advance the conversation.

Everywhere you turned yesterday, activists were lamenting the lack of a liberal perspective in media coverage.  Again, a fairly laughable point but one heard often in the echo chamber here.  To those making such claims, go ask a conservative from Texas about what they think about the New York Times.

Listen, we all know what the issues are.  But, let’s not spend time journo-bashing.  It’s time to look at the Journalism playing field and see solutions and opportunities.

One of the opening panels yesterday was headlined as:  “Collaboration Trumps Competition:  Breaking Down Barriers Between Citizens, Newsrooms and Journalists.”  Some of the smartest, most creative minds looking at the future of journalism were on the panel:  Jan Schaeffer, David Cohn, Susan Mernit and Lisa Williams spoke about how those in the audience could collaborate and become a part of journalism.

But, instead, during the question-and-answer session, those in the audience lamented the difficulties in motivating citizen journalists and one attendee even asked about ‘monetizing’ their product.  People seemed to be missing the point, and that only continued yesterday.

My hope is that the tenor changes today.  There are many forward-looking journalists out there that are experimenting with different platforms and ways to present news.  The passion and drive that seems to be present at this conference can be applied to citizen journalism efforts.   But, it’s not easy.  You can’t just turn on a switch and become a journalist.  There is training and procedures involved.  There are plenty of opportunities out there but it takes time and effort.

It’s easy to bash journalism.  It’s a little harder to get involved with and change the way things are done.




It’s Carnival Time: Let’s Get Past the Talking

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I must admit, the latest topic(s) by Carnival Ringmaster David Cohn had me a bit stumped.  And, I seriously considered taking a pass this time around.  But, knowing Dave as I do I wondered whether he wasn’t doing a bit of crowdsourcing here and actually, I think it’s pretty clear he is.

So, maybe the Reynolds folks are looking for some direction?  With that possibility in mind, here are some thoughts on the future of The Reynolds Fellowship.

I struggled with answering this because when I go to the RJI web site, I don’t get much of a feeling of what the Fellows are actually doing.   It looks like a good deal of writing and researching.  And, we all know the definition of  “Fellows” — spend a year talking and writing about issues.  Which, I guess, is fine.  But, man-oh-man, we have so many people writing and talking about the “Future of Journalism.”  Honestly, I grow weary of it.   My Twitter feed is filled with people talking about the Future of Journalism — everyone and their cousin has an opinion on the New York Times’ paywall.   But, seriously, how do paywalls get wrapped into discussion about the future of journalism?  Seriously?

One of my old bosses was fond of saying: “We’re breathing our own fumes here.”  It seems to me that with so many people talking and talking and talking about the future, we end up breathing our own fumes.  We’re intoxicated with the possibilities and what could happen but (with rare exceptions) our legs get stuck in the mud when it comes to execution.

Meanwhile, flying under the radar are educators across the country who are actually experimenting, exploring and trying to implement many of the ideas that are talked to death endlessly.  How can we get them involved as Fellows?

At UMass-Amherst, I teach an Investigative Journalism & The Web course where students provide content for a local news Web site, producing both daily blog content for the site, as well as longer, semester-long projects.  There are plenty of schools around the country, including ours, that are beginning to incorporate elements of Entrepreneurial Journalism into their curriculum.

Listen, I’m not attacking the Fellows.  I know quite a few of them and they’re really smart folks.  But man-oh-man, can we start doing some things?  I’m sure many of them would be excited by that idea.

We all go to the same conferences where we get energized about the Future of Journalism.  We promise to act on the many fantastic ideas we talk about over lattes.  But, all too often (and I’m as guilty as anyone) the ideas get lost when we return to our day-to-day lives.  So, how about making the Reynolds Fellowship into something more concrete?

Some thoughts:

What: Produce from one idea.  Have the Fellows work on one idea.  Give fellows one year to take an idea and make it into reality.  Each Fellow could bring their own strengths/talents to the project….think more along the lines of editors working together in a newsroom.

* How:  The idea could come from a number of sources but it would be worth putting out a nationwide call for ideas and have a panel of former Fellows choose the best idea?

Who:  Is it possible to crowdsource educators and or/students from across the nation on a Fellows project?   This is not an original idea — it’s been kicked around in various corners but might be worth revisiting here.  Can it happen?  Kind of exciting just to think about it, no?

In the words of DigiDave, such a course of action would be pretty “rad.”

Newsroom Partnerships Offer Chance at Innovation: Carnival of Journalism

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UMass Journalism students Dave Brinch (left) and Julian Feller-Cohen (right) cover a meeting with MassLive's Greg Saulmon last semester.

The response to David Cohn’s (aka DigiDave) revival of the Carnival of Journalism, has been pretty impressive.  My first post focused on a new news literacy with Journalism students and the need to focus on accuracy in the aftermath of the shoddy reporting in the opening hours of the Tucson shootings.

One of the big discussion items so far in the “Carnival” center on the need for universities and programs to be innovative when it comes to the teaching of Journalism — another great topic.

I’m now entering the second semester of a formal partnership between my Investigative Journalism & The Web class and MassLive, the Web site of the Springfield Republican. The class was constructed as an attempt to take an in-depth look at the town of South Hadley and its residents in the aftermath of the tragic suicide of South Hadley teenager Phoebe Prince one year ago.

Students were required to blog throughout the course of last semester — and as more and more incidents made their way into the news, it became clear that bullying was an issue that went way beyond our corner of Western Massachusetts.  Students also produced a final package of stories — a combination of text, video and audio.

The class is both an attempt to be innovative by creating a newsroom-like environment and to get students out into the community — attending meetings and events and talking to residents about the bullying issue.

It was not easy.

That is probably the biggest message I would send out to educators looking to begin similar partnerships. As many of us often find out, a great idea often involves a lot of time.  Establishing and maintaining such a partnership is a time-intensive undertaking.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed it and see it as an important element in a students’ education but I often find myself editing blog posts at 6 a.m. in order to get them onto the site in a timely manner.  And, you find yourself fielding queries from students, editors and sources at all days and hours.  Kind of, ya know, like a newsroom.

Some other lessons:

*  The need to contact sources before you set up the class is almost mandatory.  Let as many sources as possible know what you’re doing before the class starts.  In the end, it helps students when they start making calls.

*  No matter how much you prepare students, there is a possibility students will find themselves in a confrontation (especially if it’s an investigative class.)   Classes on interviews, dealing with sensitive topics and handling confrontations should be an early discussion as well as one you return to frequently.  Also, give students your cell phone number in case they find themselves in a difficult situation.

* Set up an editing system with your newsroom partner that allows for multiple set of eyes before publishing.  In our case we had at least one set of eyes reading blog entries and the final projects had multiple editors, including myself.

* Identification.  Perhaps the biggest confusion comes when students try to identify themselves with sources.  It’s best to leave “class project” out of identifiers because sources often think that “class project” means “not published.”  Students also have to work hard to be taken seriously by sources.  Youth ends up being a negative in the eyes of many sources.

What was exciting about the class was the way that students worked with each other, helped each other and ended up producing a fairly cohesive project by the end of the semester.  It became a partnership of sorts and I found myself switching roles between editor and instructor — a mix that many traditional professors aren’t necessarily comfortable with.  Professor as “all-knowing seer” needs to be abandoned in such a class.  You find yourself working together with students, rather than standing at a podium and dictating what journalism is or should be.

The nature of the project required a certain amount of failure — some stories and blog entries were not going to pan out — so in the end you end you have to find a way to come up with a grade that reflects both the work and the effort.

Most importantly, I believe the project has kept the discussion going about bullying, teen suicide, the Phoebe Prince case and other issues.    Coverage has helped that conversation continue and in an age of decreasing resources with newspapers, that’s the biggest value Journalism programs can bring to communities.


Joining the Carnival of Journalism: The Changing Role of Universities


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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