Monday, June 07, 2010

Suspect Suicide Caught on Video. Do You Air It?

Media aren't the gatekeepers of information they once were.

The story about a porn star suspected of murder hurling himself off a cliff as Los Angeles police tried to subdue him is a great example. Though police failed to grab Stephen Clancy Hill before he fell to his death, he was captured on video.

Do you air it?

It's not pleasant to look at but it's not nearly as graphic as the Budd Dwyer gun-in-mouth suicide televised live in 1987. Airing the video might counter accusations of police brutality. Hill was black and the LAPD is not known for just treatment of minorities. Rodney King, anyone?

It has the makings of a great debate.

One rendered totally moot by YouTube.

As stations and now newspapers and radio stations with their video-enabled web sites gnash their teeth weighing the merits, viewers have already decided for themselves if they want to see it. Those who do have no trouble finding it online.

If you're a news director or an editor or just an idiot arguing on a message board you are debating as an exercise. Your verdict has little to do with what news consumers actually see. That itself introduces a new dynamic in the decision-making process. I wonder how it will change news outlets' thinking (A) about showing the video and (B) covering the story?

Interesting times.


Robin said...

what new pillars will j-schools impart to their young students if :being gatekeepers" is not one of them? Interestingly, I read an article debating the widening gap between being a gatekeeper and a "page-minder" -- in essence judging what was newsworthy by how many page views it might get. hmmm ... isn't the nearly the same as saying, we shouldn't run this story because it makes a major advertiser look bad?

John said...

Robin, you ask a good question to which there is not a simple answer. The obvious thing would be for J-schools to train their charges to operate with the same presumption that print reporters learned. Informed people know the headlines and the basic details of stories before they get the newspaper. The same is now true for TV newscasts. Newspapers adapted by adding depth, analysis and perspective that radio and TV did not offer.

The problems with TV newsrooms trying to do that are twofold. One, they have trained the audience to expect short, snappy stories in fast-paced newscasts. Two, TV "journalism" has become so shallow that most people attracted to it are not capable of the thoughtful reporting that interesting in-depth stories require.

"Page-minding" is just the latest economic pressure on journalism. It has always existed and always will. The audience will have to become increasingly savvy about the sources of news they consume.

SkitzoLeezra said...

I've seen the Jackass guys suffer falls worse than that and walk away. Did his head hit rock? Even after watching it 7 times, I cannot discern.