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Media Ethics: Inside Out

Media Ethics: Inside Out

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Published by Jason Lanning
Article about real-world ethical situations facing media.
Article about real-world ethical situations facing media.

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Published by: Jason Lanning on Jan 08, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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01/08/2012

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(from http://www.jasonlanning.com by jason lanning) I was a young reporter eager to break the story. The tip came into my work email and I was ready. A man that lived in an apartment complex wrote to me that for months he hadseen several sheriff's office deputies sitting in the back parking lot of a church in his neighborhood. The man wrote that as many as ten deputies, sometimes more, would be outside of their patrol cars talking and drinking coffee for two hours plus, daily. What were they doing and why? Certainly his tax dollars couldbe put to better use by having these deputies out on the street. Sounds like agreat story, right? It was, but for all the wrong reasons. After pitching the story to my News Director, I was out the door with a small camera and an unmarked SUV with tinted windows. I visited the neighborhood three times over the course of a couple weeks. I setup the camera on a tripod inthe back of the SUV. Over the course of two weeks I shot hours of video of exactly what our tipster said we'd find. I logged each patrol car I saw, and alsothe amount of time each deputy spent there. Once we had the tipster's side of the story it was time to call the sheriff's office to find out what these deputies were up to.The sheriff's office told me deputies would gather behind the church to gettheir daily reports signed off on by the shift supervisor. It's a lengthy process at times where the supervisor checks reports for accuracy and for the neededlegal documentation. The location where deputies were meeting was picked because it was in the center of the district and the most viable spot for deputies with take home cruisers. When I took all the information I had gathered to my news director, the story was a wash. Any coverage we gave the story wouldn't have been fair because the deputies weren't doing what we were told by our tipster. I filed the video and reporter notes in my bottom desk door and moved on. A couple months later, I couldn't help but notice a sweeps story promotionfor a competing station in the market. If you aren't familiar with sweeps, it'sa ratings period for broadcast media where Nielsen meters homes and determinesa newscasts viewership. Sweeps (February/May/July/November) is important becausethe more viewers a station gets, the more advertising dollars it can ask for. The tease of the headline was tantalizing.... "Deputies caught slacking onthe job. Tonight at 11." You can imagine my shock and surprise when I looked and saw video of the same deputies, behind the same church that I had staked out.The story later that night was everything you'd expect from a hard hittinginvestigation. Gritty undercover video. A dramatic reporter voice track that itself called the deputies actions into question. The camera stormed the deputies in the parking lot and the reporter shouted out questions in a way that made the deputies guilty of something before they even had the opportunity to answer. Because the sheriff's office knew we had looked into the story months priorand didn't run with it, I couldn't help myself but call the next day. Needlessto say no one was happy. In fact, my contact with the sheriff's office was sodispleased she wanted the story covered and was willing to give us inside details into the reasons the deputies gathered in the church parking lot. As I approached my News Director a second time concerning the story, I gotthe green light. 

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