VT Shooting & Ethics

Here in Houston a nearby high school recently had its own mini news story. A student was killed and two others injured when a 20-year-old drunk driver hit the SUV they were in, killing the 18-year-old student.

Like VT, the media covered the event as a news story, but they also covered the aftermath too. They were at the funeral and the memorial. They interviewed students and others about the crash and his life.

How do you teach students how to handle such a delicate issue as death. There is a compelling news interest for stories such as this – a shooting massacre, a drunk driver kills a teen – but there also needs to be a time for the media to step away from the story and not turn it into a never ending Anna Nicole Smith baby-daddy marathon.

We discussed this in my broadcast journalism class today. We talked about the line between news and invasion of people’s personal space for grief. When is it too much? How do you know? How can you identify it before you’ve accidentally crossed the line? Hard questions.

Mr. C

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1 Comment

  1. Why do folks talk about the news? So they can re-experience, relive, or understand it. Yes, part of this is gossip…but part is also connecting (in teacher-ese: making a personal connection). I’ve been on untold numbers of tragedies and 99% of the time when I asked to talk to someone on camera, they said yes. I always approached w/camera down or pointing away ane explained my business…but people wanted to talk. They wanted to understand what happened and talking clarified the experience, helped them see again what they’d been through. If done correctly, this is a learning experience for your students. They should never cross the ethical line of traumatizing a victim again…but give the victim a chance to tell their story. I would worry more about the impact of the strong emotional response on your students. Unrestrained grief is beyond what most folks ever see and there is no way to deal with it except sit and listen…and often time you must turn off the camera, put down the notebook and wait. But this is part being human…life and death.
    Best way to cover a death – first, acknowledge that it heppened and give the facts as they are known (some facts take longer to become known). Next, allow those involved a chance to make their statements if they wish to. Finally, remember the injured and dead – and with the dead, you tell the family it is an opportunity to allow the community to know who this person really was…not just another victim, but a living, much loved person who meant something.


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