The murder Wednesday of a WDBJ journalist and cameraman in Virginia leaves us struggling to understand a sickening crime. It also raises important ethical questions on how the story has and continues to be covered.
News coverage of the shootings disturbed many viewers and readers as much as the event did. Some news media outlets posted images directly from the shooter’s Twitter account, including a still from a video showing a hand-held gun pointing at one of the victims just before the attack. Other outlets posted the footage captured by the WDBJ camera. Some readers have criticized these decisions for giving the perpetrator additional exposure or disrespecting the victims; others have said that the content is newsworthy and have retweeted the images and video on their own Twitter feeds.
To help your students explore the ethical questions about content use and sources during tragedy, NewseumED offers two related case studies for the classroom. “Cover Worthy” examines the decision by Rolling Stone magazine to put then-suspected Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on its cover; “Horror on Record” examines whether the news media should air a 22-minute video created by Islamic extremists.
Reading and discussing these case studies will help your students wrestle with questions surrounding news coverage of the WDBJ shooting such as:
Tips for Student Discussion:
In small groups, students should decide which of the options they think is the best choice. Challenge the students to think outside the box and come up with their own options if necessary. Ethically speaking, we hope journalists are accurate, fair and clear. Are all three of the characteristics met by the option chosen? Why or why not?
We are interested to hear your feedback, so please share your thoughts with us in the comment section. You can find more resources on our WDBJ shooting Pinterest board.
You are the editor of a national magazine that covers music, politics and popular culture. You assign a reporter to profile a suspect in a bombing that killed three people and injured hundreds. The suspect is the same age as many of your readers. The reporter interviews the suspect’s friends, teachers and police to examine what might drive a young man to kill indiscriminately.
At press time, you consider using on the cover a photograph that the suspect took of himself and posted to social media. It has appeared in other publications.
What do you do?
Questions to Consider
You can find more resources on the real story on our Rolling Stone Pinterest board.
You are a producer at a cable news network. For months, your network has been reporting on an increasingly powerful group of violent Islamic extremists. The group posts a 22-minute video on the Internet that seems to show a hostage being burned alive in a cage. The video identifies the hostage as a fighter pilot from a country battling the extremist group.
As the producer of a U.S. news network, what do you do with the video?
Questions to Consider
You can find more resources on the real story on our ISIS Pinterest board.