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.
Here’s the latest scenario for you to think through:
The Naked Truth
Sometimes you report stories because they’re just plain strange. This is one of those stories.
The exact circumstances escape me, but the story goes something like this:
We get a Facebook post and/or email from a viewer asking what went down in their neighborhood the previous evening. The writer says a naked guy knocked on their door in the middle of the night and then took off. Later that evening, they saw police lights in the neighborhood.
A check of police records showed a man went door-to-door in a neighborhood knocking on roughly a dozen doors and ran away…in his birthday suit.
If I remember right, he was arrested for public intoxication.
At the time, I worked in a pretty small market and a story like this was rare. The newsroom got a pretty good kick out of it, and we thought viewers would as well.
Web hits proved our theory was right. Everyone seemed to like the story — except the naked guy’s mom.
I talked with her on the phone a couple hours after the story was posted. She was emotional and said this was a private family matter. She explained they were “important people” in town and this information could greatly damage their reputation.
I told her their private (in this case, meaning ‘personal’ or ‘exclusive’) situation went pretty public when he traveled through the neighborhood.
Needless to say, she wasn’t having it. She questioned the story’s news value and politely demanded it be removed from the website.
So what’s the story’s news value? Does it fit with our brand and the type of news we want to provide to our viewers? Not really. But the story is already up. We made the decision to post it. Do we take it down?
Have an ethical dilemma you think is worth sharing with others? Email me: KellermanRA@yahoo.com