That’s probably the best way to explain it. As a career journalist, I’m ashamed at what I witnessed today.T
This morning, I was watching my favorite local morning show — Channel 2 News’ morning show Daybreak. I love the show for anchor Tom Green’s gruff, wry, straight-man approach, reporter Chris Parente’s ebullient energy as his foil, and Meteorologist Chris Tomer’s aww-shucks farm-boy pleasantness (the show still hasn’t adequately replaced wicked funny anchor Angie Austin, but nothing’s perfect). I was standing in the kitchen making breakfast and Tom Green warned me from the TV 30 feet away that I was about to see something disturbing and graphic.
They cut away to video taken by a local news cameraman in Virginia, filming a news segment on tourism. His name was Adam Ward, and a moment later, he and the reporter he was filming, Alison Parker, were gunned down by who was later identified as a disgruntled former co-worker.
Parker’s screams were gut wrenching. The camera fell to the ground and we caught a glimpse of the gunman’s legs. There was a cut away back to the anchor of that station, sitting at the desk, utterly in shock. And then the clip ended.
We live in a weird time, I know. Everyone has a live, distributable video feed in their pocket. In less than 6 months, Twitter’s live video streaming app Periscope’s topped 10 million users. To contrast, it took more than two years for Twitter to break 10 million users (The Morton Report, “Google+ Experiencing Unprecedented Trajectory Upwards,” July 20, 2011). Video is a part of our lives in a very personal way.
Competing with that, from a journalist’s perspective, isn’t easy. But it’s also not hard. Our differentiator is training. Source development. Story-telling experience. We spend years learning about laws and ethics long before we’re turned loose with a camera (or notepad) and a microphone (or pen).
When we misstep, it’s because we’ve forgotten what makes the Fourth Estate so special. It’s when we rush to be the first. But timeliness is only one factor of what makes the news. Consumers want to know what’s happening, but they need to know why. Journalists need to connect those dots.
What I saw this morning was Daybreak choosing to air what amounted to a snuff film.
Nothing of value came from this decision. At least, I certainly can’t see anything. The best I’ve come up with is that maybe it’s shocking enough that the producers at Channel 2 decided it was a Hail Mary attempt at getting enough people motivated to actually do something about gun violence in this country (multiple requests for comment were not responded to).
If so, I can applaud their reasoning, but I still assign them a failing grade in wisdom. The cow’s out to pasture on this one. Dan Hodges, a blogger for The Telegraph, summed it up perfectly in his famous tweet on June 19: “In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”
But I’m not looking to add my voice to the gun rights debate on this one. My point is simply to challenge Daybreak and every other legitimate news outlet in this country to be better.
Better than shock video for shock’s sake. Better than airing the murder of two of our own moments after it occurred. Better than sinking to the level of wing-nuts with a camera phone and an internet connection.
We’re certainly all better than this.