News organizations should have treated WDBJ shooting better

News organizations should have treated WDBJ shooting better

News organizations should have treated WDBJ shooting better
August 27
12:47 2015

The Editorial Board 

Yesterday morning, two journalists were killed while conducting an interview. They weren’t rubbing shoulders with rebels in Ukraine, nor were they slipping through cracks in Iraq or Syria to bring the world information about the latest Islamic State atrocity.

No. Alison Parker, a 24-year-old reporter and Adam Ward, a 27-year-old photojournalist, both members of WDBJ-TV, were shot dead in the middle of a live broadcast in Virginia by a former colleague. This event is both tragic and shocking, and North Texas Daily’s condolences are with the family and friends of those affected by this senseless disaster.  The journalistic community is tight-knit and invariably small, and to see our brothers and sisters slain on the job affects us all.

The insensitivity of the Internet following this massacre is not surprising. Some corners of the web contain uncensored content, which is much less promoted. The fact a video from a Twitter account circulated for several hours shortly after the slaying is even less astonishing.

What is reprehensible, and should spark serious debate after the events of today, is the handling of the situation by several prominent news outlets. There was no amount of foresight capable of predicting the actions of Vester Lee Flanagan, known on Twitter as Bryce Williams. The video was graphic, yes, and it’s part of the territory. But this does not excuse news organizations from their decisions to continually display the video Flanagan recorded during his rampage. It shows the deaths of these journalists and the severe injury of Vicki Gardner, a member of Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, from a first-person point of view.

The Internet’s true intention is debatable. It collects and stores information from all mediums, and those who use it understand the risks associated with browsing. In regards to broadcast media, viewers are left to see whatever studio producers decide to air, but their ethical responsibility was neglected in the decision to repeatedly show the deaths of these individuals. It was crass, careless and wholly insensitive to the unimaginable heartache of those close to the victims.

What can be commended are the efforts of WDBJ in the wake of the tragedy. Instead of compromising its journalistic merit in the name of ratings, it dedicated actual airtime to remembering its employees’ lives. Instead of glorifying the gunman, who was a former employee of the station let go over two years ago, the station dedicated itself to the promotion of positivity. The deceased were highly regarded by their co-workers at WDBJ.

Ward’s fiancée, a producer at the station, was celebrating her last day of work in preparation for the pair to move. Parker’s boyfriend, also a reporter at the station, described her as “the most radiant woman I ever met.” The couple had reportedly just moved in together.

Those of us at North Texas Daily have decided we will not be posting the video on any of our platforms. We will not chase clicks or views through clickbait or fear-mongering tactics and are devoted to maintaining an ethical vantage point.

Today, we are remembering what it means to be a journalist and more importantly, a human being. We urge our colleagues at other publications to consider their ethical commitments,  should they be tested again in the future. Our thoughts are with the loved ones of those lost.

Editor’s Note: In the original post of this story, which also ran in print on Thursday, August 27, The Editorial Board named the shooter as Victor Lee Flanagan. That is incorrect. His name is Vester Lee Flanagan.

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