Apr 24, 2007

Journalism: getting the story while

by Kari Mitchell, Editor-in-Chief
I sat in my office Monday morning listening to the news about a shooting that had occurred at Virginia Tech. I was too busy writing a College for a Weekend article to pull up IPTV on my own computer, so I just listened to it in the background on another Champion staff member’s  computer.

 There was talk in the office about rearranging the front page of the Champion to include the piece of breaking news. What started out as small blurb turned into our headline story as the death total jumped from two to 20, then 22, then 32 and finally, 33.
I felt like I was watching the event unfold as two different people.

As a journalist, I wanted to know every detail of what was going on. The Champion staff in the office was glued to WSLS, while occasionally checking news Web sites for more confirmed information about what was happening on a campus very close to ours. I felt like I should have been more upset about those who lost their lives and the trauma that the others on campus were experiencing. I was too busy worrying about how it would effect the production of the paper. I was stressed most of the evening. I didn’t have relief until about 12:30 a.m. when the paper was finally sent to the printer.   

Why was I worrying about that? People lost their lives on Monday. That realization did not hit me until I saw the pictures of the students Tuesday morning. These were people – brothers, sisters, sons, daughters and friends. If I went to Tech, it could have been me, or someone I knew. The thought gave me chills.

Tuesday night during prayer groups, an interesting topic came up – the media coverage of the shooting rampage. Members of my group claimed that the media were too intrusive. As a journalist, I defended the press. One girl fired back that this should be a time of mourning and sorrow and some of these issues, such as security and gun control, should not be dealt with right now. Though I feared sounding insensitive, I continued to argue.

The media are asking legitimate questions that people want answers to. Journalism is a profession and it’s the job of a journalist to get the story. They do not mean intentional harm. A journalist’s main goal is to tell a story accurately and objectively. There are good journalists and there are bad journalists.

 While the questions being asked were valid, it seemed that members of the media had already formed an opinion and were pointing fingers and laying blame, rather than searching for truth. This is irresponsible journalism, and the individual journalist should be criticized, not the media as a whole.  

Ultimately, to be a good journalist, judgment must be used. He or she must get the story while being fully aware of the source’s privacy and feelings. As I type that sentence, I question my use of the term “source,” and debate whether I should use a more humanistic word, such as “person.” However, as a journalist, I will leave it as source to partly show the struggle that we face while covering such events.  

The public wants answers. It’s my responsibility, my job, to get them. However, as a Christian, using my gift to bring God glory, I am held to a higher standard in how I go about getting those answers. A successful journalist finds a way, without dehumanizing the source or the situation.

Contact Kari Mitchell at kmitchell@liberty.edu.

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