Broadcast journalism ethics need to change
I have experienced it firsthand, and now I am reading about it. Allowing videographers to stage scenes, situations and/or actions is NOT journalism. We are here to document what we see, not recreate what we missed. If you missed the poignant kiss, that is your fault. How is it that journalism ethics can vary so greatly from print to broadcast?
Now, I know print journalists have their ethical dilemmas, too. Photographers digitally manipulate photos, writers plagiarize stories, and graphic artists use coyprighted images. Maybe why I am so flustered with the ethics of videography is because I consider myself a video journalist (along with a multimedia producer, programmer and blogger).
For my social networking class, I read an article by The New Yorker discussing the infamous “MySpace suicide hoax.” The author depicts the scene of journalists as they interview the victim’s parents:
“Before the taping, Ron gave Tina a bereft, searching glance. The cameraman was hoping to capture it. ‘Could you look at your wife again?’ he said. Then he asked Tina, ‘Could you look at your husband?’”
This cameraman (working for Good Morning America) was no doubt trying to create a moving, emotional piece. But he missed the money shot. So instead of focusing on paying better attention to catch those moments in the future, he asked them to recreate it.
The very same situation has happened to me while I was at The Roanoke Times. I would be covering a story, along with local broadcast personnel. During one instance, I was there for an hour before they arrived, documenting the scene as a bystander would see it. Before long, the TV personality and videographer bombard the scene and tell the subject what they want them to say, many times asking that they repeat it several times so they can get multiple angles. After five B-roll shots, three sound bytes and a stand-up, they are out of there.
This approach to storytelling is wrong on so many levels.
First, they are telling the story the way they want it to be told, not necessarily how it would (and should) naturally be told. Second, the subjects are not dumb. If they see that this is how they are asked to present their story for the evening news, they will start the question the validity of future stories. Third, it’s just plain rude!
After the broadcast journalists left, I spent an hour interviewing my subjects. If they didn’t say something I needed them to say, I didn’t ask the right question. My Poynter fellowship drilled this into my head, and I am so thankful to carry this perspective into my career.
It is so frustrating when I do the ethical, more time-consuming process while others do the quick-and-dirty routine. It infuriates me to see a select few with no ethical practice give journalists as a whole a bad name.
What will it take for all journalists to treat their subjects with respect instead of just “doing the job to get it done”?
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Tags: advice, broadcast, editing, ethics, journalism, Poynter, videography