#Reg10SPJ - Conflict Sensitive Reporting
From fluff to hard news. It’s a hard way to jump when you’re not skilled in giving a story great level of attention. Clay Holtzman with SPJ says when people’s lives are at stake, journalists have to be careful not to contribute to the cycle of violence. National coverage usually pertains to war. Locally, it applies to elections, crime, public policy, etc. Whenever conflict is a strong element.
I was hesitant to attend this panel. I thought that because I don’t write such heavy news, why would it be important to me? Evonne Bennedict with KING-5 said, “Yet.” Keyword there. I decided to go.
Candace Dempsey, author of Murder in Italy, said something I wrote down and will add to my inner journalism mantra: “Close off all the noise around you.”
Her coverage of the Amanda Knox trial, she learned about online personalities: internet trolls.
“You become part of the story whether you like it or not,” Dempsey said. She found photos of herself on the internet she didn’t realize existed. She learned to cover her face from the paparazzi.
She reminded herself in the thunderstorm of coverage that she knew how to cover a story. She stuck to that mantra while being surrounded by anchors she’s seen on television, while remaining sensitive to those involved with the case.
I spoke to a woman Friday afternoon whose husband was shot and killed last September in Quincy. I didn’t wake up that morning knowing I’d be having such a sensitive conversation. In fact the call was simply passed to me because I happened to be in the newsroom. In the five minutes I dallied between her call and her brother, I put myself in that mood.
Horton suggests putting yourself in the shoes of the victim’s family. How would you feel if you were reading that about your family?
“I can explain it this way without the gory details,” Horton said. “When I get an angry phone call asking why did you print that? Because we could? No. If I print this information, why? - “I’m a reporter and I can.” - If that’s your reason, maybe you need to rethink your reason.”
Conflict is huge to readers whether they know it or not. They read it and that’s what they call about. “Good news” exists in the community, but it’s hard to bring to the front lines. Cue cliche: if it bleeds it leads. There’s a place for it and then there’s not.
Rowe recalls his days in the newsroom when people talked to each other.
“I don’t see that now. There’s so much to talk about. We used to have periodic brown bag lunch, where we would talk about why do we cover crime this way. Is there another way to do it? It wasn’t accusatory. Nobody had to defend themselves,” Rowe said. “It’s such a ripe time to talk about what we do and how we do it.”
And when you’re faced with a story of conflict, do it.
“I grew up being a good Catholic girl. Where did that get me?” Dempsey asked.
Regarding “Being First”
Don’t be like the guy from The Daily Mail and tweeting the incorrect verdict of the Knox case because you’re trigger happy. It’s okay to take your time and get closer to the people and the story. That’s what conflict sensitive reporting is all about.
Maybe tweeting the details of a crime story first before all your competitors isn’t what earns respect with readers and victim’s families.
From a reporter in the panel audience: A 12-year-old boy died from Swine Flu.Their phone number was not available anywhere so the reporter’s boss said: “Go knock on their door.” The reporter said she was dying inside on her way there. When she knocked on their door, they let her inside… 48 hours after their son died. This would be their one interview. They told her everything. After the story was done, the family sent the reporter flowers, a thank you card and invited her to the memorial service later that year.