My two favorite classes in Journalism school were during my senior year: Media Ethics and Media Law. I had incredible professors who pushed the envelope in exposing us — both emotionally and physically — to the impact journalists can have in peoples’ lives. We studied the guidelines of the Society of Professional Journalists to learn what the news media has a responsibility to show and what crosses the line.
It was during my senior year that tapes surfaced from terrorist beheadings and prisoner abuse in Abu Gharib. We watched some of the footage in class and to this day I can’t get the images out of my head. I think that was exactly the point my teacher was trying to make.
We also talked about how events should be covered to protect and respect the people involved, without hiding anything from the public. One story that comes to mind was one of a child who had been injured in a car accident. The photographer had avoided including any shots of the child, and instead captured an image of a shoe that had been left in the road following the accident. This stuck with me because the photograph was incredibly poignant without being invasive.
I reflected on this course and these lessons today as news circulated about a two-year-old who was killed in Florida by her family’s Burmese python. This is a terrible story about the death of an infant. The circumstances are horrifying, as grieving parents are charged with third degree murder.
There are a lot of important issues that can be brought to light by this story, from child neglect to the dangers of keeping certain species as pets. What bothered me the most was that news stations chose to air the 911 recordings of the parents to the world. As if the story wasn’t awful enough — we’re now able to listen to the hysterical sobs of the people involved.
I just don’t think that’s necessary. And I don’t think this is a respectful way to mourn this child. Instead of sensationalizing her death, I wish the reporters covering this story had instead taught us what to do to make sure this never happens again.
Even worse than checkbook journalism.