The sprawling Internet age challenges traditional notions of privacy and ethics, especially among news media, and even more so regarding sensitive issues.
A serious allegation of domestic violence occurred this week. The media maelstrom that followed could be considered equally as appalling as the allegations themselves.
Darien Police were called to the home of two CBS anchors on several occasions because out-of-town media were knocking on their door and ringing their doorbell, trying desperately to get a reaction from people who are at a low point in their lives.
“Everyone gets a door knock,” one photographer told this newspaper.
The process of gathering information using this kind of guerrilla tactic is questionable at best, offensive at worst. It’s difficult to see anything positive ever emerging from techniques such as this.
But many media outlets crave the sensational, and images of a battered wife or forlorn husband appear like candy in their eyes. The only way to stop this type of behavior is to not consume its products, just as the best way to protest child labor is to buy items made in fair trade.
And some media that have no connections to this quaint New England town could care less if they make enemies trying to get their exclusive story. Stalking people for a quote or photograph can lead to outcomes that further divide the media’s reality from society’s reality. One reporter, after having waited at someone’s house recently, was the first to bring horrific news to a loved one during a tragedy, and was lauded for her actions.
As our hunger for information increases with the instantaneous nature of online news, the tactics used to bring and break news also continue to call integrity and ethics into question. The datelines of the past have blurred into flurry of re-Tweets. One media outlet will work diligently to break news that nobody else has, then others follow suit, not giving credit where it’s due, making it appear they did the hard work that the was done by their competitor.
It’s important to source the originator of the story not simply for the ego of that publication, but for the record. It’s a fact that news outlet A broke this story, so if news outlet B presents itself as the originator, it’s a misinterpretation of the facts.
For an industry that prides itself on facts, the very least we can do is be honest with each other.