Monday, April 09, 2007

Covering the Watchdog

What does the media do when the news story it must cover happens in its own newsroom?

One Tampa television station had to find that out when they reported the death of the station meterologist, John Winter, who died of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Poynter Online Managing Editor Scott Libin analyzed the station's coverage of the event, and contrasted it with the way other outlets handled the news. On Winter's station, WFLA, here is what Libin observed:

I saw the usual establishing video of Winter's house, with police tape and emergency vehicles in the foreground. A tighter shot of his car in the driveway followed. I did not see any neighbors, nor did I hear any sound bites from them recounting what they'd seen and heard or speculating on what might have led Winter to take his own life. Would such sound have been part of the story if it were about a famous person who didn't work at the station? Should it be part of such stories? Will it in the future when WFLA covers cases that don't come quite so close to home?

On competing stations, Libin noted some unusual aspects to the coverage of Winter's death:

What little I saw of coverage on competing stations was somber and respectful. WFTS, which calls itself ABC Action News, even referred to Winter as a "News Channel 8 meteorologist." It's unusual in my experience to hear the competition use another station's brand language, rather than the more neutral-sounding call letters.
It's hard enough dealing with a news story in your own newsroom, but what about a news story involving your competition? One of my coworkers had to deal with that when she had to cover a story about a rival reporter who used subscriber credit cards to support a gambling addiction. We knew it was a story, but how much courtesy do you extend? Do you treat it like any other police story and go from the records? Do you sanitize it a little and withhold some elements of the story? Where do you run it - inside or on the cover? How does an industy that - ideally - is unbiased and neutral, cover a story its involved in or that involves a contemporary?

How would you have covered the meterologist story? The gambling reporter story?



Posted by T Dot at 10:24 AM | link

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