NEWSBLOG (WSAU) - A hypothetical. A television camera crew happens to be at City Hall filming a story when an armed gunman walks in. “Drop everything!” he yells. The tv crew drops their equipment, but unbeknownst to everyone, the camera keeps rolling. The hostage standoff ends when police storm the building. Gunshots are exchanged. An innocent bystander is killed in the hail of bullets. The tv camera captures it all… a bullet going into the head of an innocent victim, and the death in a pool of blood that follows.
It’s a legitimate news story. The video would tell the story better than any words could. But the video is graphic and disturbing. It would bother most viewers. It would scare children in the audience.
Just because we have something on tape, should we show it?
That’s the fundamental question in the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili , the luge athlete who died in a horrific crash during a practice run during before the Winter Olympics.
There are dozens of high-resolution cameras set up along the run. Every second of everything that happens on that course is recorded in crystal-clear slow motion. We see Kumaritashvili lose control, crash into a concrete slab, and be thrown over the side of the course. We see his death more vividly than we have ever seen a fatal sports accident.
In my hypothetical situation there are many people in newsrooms around the country who would be in favor of showing the story as-is. Some would argue for sensitivity and careful editing. No one would argue not to show it at all.
The same debate played out an NBC Sports, and the “show it” crowd won.
People who work in tv are always told to "get the shot"… you rise and fall based on the pictures that you deliver to your viewers. Getting visually compelling footage is all-important. There are cases of videographers who haven’t interceded in stopping crimes or helping people during times of danger in the name of keeping their cameras rolling. Their minds don't process what is actually happening in front of their camera. It’s a mindset that dulls the senses. And in this case, it clouded the judgment of the Olympic broadcast producers.
Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau