Thursday, August 16, 2007

Being up-front with readers ‘no long applicable’ at the Journal Star

From today's Journal Star:

A statement released Tuesday by the Dahlquist* family did not run in full in Wednesday editions. Sports Editor Bill Liesse felt it appropriate it run now. We have deleted a third paragraph regarding Danny's wake and funeral that is no longer applicable.

Well, thank you PJS from saving readers from having to read a whole paragraph that's no longer applicable. I'm sure readers will appreciate you for not wasting a whole 30 seconds of their day. But for those of us who are curious, what WAS that paragraph? Thanks to blogger Peoria Illinoisan, we can read it:
“Based on the intrusive behavior we have experienced the past two days, we will be very disappointed to see television cameras and reporters at the visitation and funeral for our son, Danny.”

Of course, the Journal Star sent reporters to attend both services (here) and had photographers outside both (here and here), making sure the grieving faces of friends and family members are recorded for posterity.

This is probably going to mark me as a heretic at the Church of the Public's Holy Right to Know, but I've never really agreed there's a need for the media to attend these things. The news media's job, in my humble opinion, is to increase the public's knowledge and understanding of the world so that they can better function in and promote a free society. I'm not sure how looking at photos of people's faces as they are crying over their dead relatives makes America a better place.

Someone is sure to say that media coverage is these events is a way for all Peorians to cope with the grief over this tragedy. I'm thinking that gawking isn't about helping people grieve. All the people who do need to grieve are already there.

The sad truth is that the media often hides behind claims of the public's right to know when all the media is doing is satisfying consumers urge for voyeurism.

These were services for one young man. The family's request for privacy should have been honored. Just because it was possible for reporters to attend and physical possible for photographers to stand across the street and snap pictures, that doesn't mean it SHOULD have happened.

But people can respectfully disagree on this issue. So let's put aside the issue of the morality and ethics of photographing a funeral against the family's wishes. There also the issue of the Journal Star's deliberate decision to keep its readers from knowing that they've been doing this against the stated wishes of the family. How ironic that the public's right to know doesn't include facts that make the PJS look bad. It's somewhat short of a lie, but not by much.

It would have been one thing to not report on the family's statement. It's quite another to report on it, but leave out that stuff that makes your news organization look bad.

Twenty years ago, they would have gotten away with it, because the good-old-boy media industry frowns on one news organization criticizing another. Sure, it might have ended up in some media review that the public never reads. But this is the age of the Internet. There's no way that bloggers weren't going to catch this and report on it. Did the journalistic brain trust at 1 News Plaza really think for one moment that bloggers wouldn't find out and call them on this?

The Peoria Journal Star: Unethical AND stupid. What a sad combination. And, how sad that this is what is becoming of Peoria's one and only daily newspaper. We need something new in Peoria.

* Background: Four Bradley University students face aggravated arson charges stemming from the death of their friend and roommate Danny Dahlquist. They have told police that the fire started as the result of a prank that went bad.

Cross posted to Peoria Pundits.


Robbie C. 12:22 PM  

Good read.

I blogged about the morality of cameras at funerals a while back and got jumped on by a lot of people for it. We have had many funerals for soldiers here in Galesburg the last few years and I was getting sick of the newspaper feeling the need to show every family member close up and crying. I understand the desire to show the families emotion, but at what cost?

Anonymous,  9:34 AM  

Should they have photographed this funeral? I don't know, especially if the family didn't want it. Each funeral should be judged as a case by case situation.

Photographing funerals is not a black or white issue. The fact is there are many that should be photographed in the public interest -- Soldier's funerals, what affect war has on a community. Or, what affect DUI, stupid pranks, etc. has on families. Photogs should be as far back as possible, dress nicely and be respectful.

It isn't all fox news out there folks and the PJ Star still has one of the best photo staff's in the midest.

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