Ethical Dilemmas: Granny’s Fire Fiasco

One of my favorite training sessions to conduct is on newsroom ethics: What do we know? What do we still need to know? What are the risks? Who are the potential victims of our decisions? People often see the answers to these questions differently. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Over the next few months, I’ll present various scenarios I’ve encountered in the last few years.  I’d like to hear how you’d approach each of the stories, starting with the following.

Granny’s Fire Fiasco


Right before Christmas, Granny’s home burned down. (I know.  How sad­, right?) Everyone who lives around Granny decides to raise money and take in donations to get her back on her feet. It’s a heartwarming story of neighbor helping neighbor. We go interview Granny. She’s staying with her son, and she’s there by herself. Granny gives us great sound.  She thanks us. We’re out.

About half an hour before the story is set to hit the air, we get a call from the son who owns the home where we interviewed her. He doesn’t want us to air the story. He tells us we didn’t have permission to shoot in the home, and we don’t have a right to put it on TV.
We asked he and his family members if Granny was mentally fit to make decisions on her own.  They said she was.


So what was their issue with putting the interview on TV?  They didn’t want their home shown.  It wasn’t clean, and showing it was an invasion of privacy.

At this point, you’re 10 minutes to air. How do you proceed? Do you have the information you need to make a decision?

Let’s discuss in the comments below!

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4 thoughts on “Ethical Dilemmas: Granny’s Fire Fiasco

  1. If Granny is of sound mind, and the story is likely to raise more interest in helping her financially or in any other way then you run it! What kind of son worries more about appearances than the well being of his mother?


  2. Why, if reporter/team knew they were interviewing Granny inside a home that isn’t hers, didn’t they get clearance from homeowner son – prior to edit at the very least? Due diligence is central to journalistic responsibility, regardless of how minute the detail or how ‘feel-good’ the piece, and this particular one was highly manageable with just a little bit of teamwork and mutual accountability.

    After the call from the son (and knowing 1) that said Granny is ultimately being cared for between neighborhood efforts and ability to reside with son and 2) no crime was committed by any central character in this scenario), the ultimate question – regardless of the bitterness of the pill – is whether broadcast team is helping Granny or itself by airing a piece which innocent and already-inconvenienced individuals all the way around have requested not air.

    It’s not the fault of the homeowner that reporter didn’t get prior permission to film from them. It’s not Granny’s fault that she very likely assumed such things would be taken care of by what she views as professionals attending her story, without her having to ask if they’d done their jobs.


  3. Use Granny sound,have photog cover with fire/donation video ASAP. Story hits air. Do follow with Granny at later date other location. Sounds like Son will appear in police blotter sooner or later. Cover his arrest 😂


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