People, for some reason, love to look at car crashes. Hence the phenomenon of “rubber-necking” delays on highways.
This phenomenon plays itself out in the realm of digital news, as you might expect. Car accidents usually generate more “hits” than any other content.
In this era of instant information, have we as journalists abandoned all scruples about reporting on tragedies like last night’s fatal car crash on Route 58?
When someone dies in a car crash, you don’t take pictures of the wrecked cars — especially when the body of a victim is still trapped inside — and publish those pictures on the internet even before the police have identified the victim.
You just don’t.
Sometimes, folks, you just don’t do things… just because you can.
How would you feel if you recognized the smashed-up car, wrapped in yellow covering to shield the victim from view, if someone you love drives a car like that?
That used to be the difference between community newspapers and big-city tabloids. You might call it caring, or sensitivity. I prefer to call it ethics.
The second tenet of the Code of Ethics posted on the wall above my desk — which I used to have posted on the door to my office at the News-Review — is
In pertinent part, it reads as follows:
— Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage.
— Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
— Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
— Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
I believe you can abide by this tenet and still fulfill your obligation under the first tenet of the code: “Seek truth and report it.”
You just don’t do things…just because you can.
RiverheadLOCAL was on the scene of that crash last night long before other media arrived. We could have taken and published graphic images of the crash scene.
We didn’t and we won’t, even though it may be something thousands of people would come to our site to gawk at.
We believe we have a responsibility to show respect for the victims of tragedies we cover. We believe that responsibility includes refraining from publishing images of crash scenes before the police ID the victims — something the police don’t do until the victim’s family has been notified.
These are people’s lives.
Some things are more important than “hits.”
Denise Civiletti, reporter, editor, digital maven and former newspaper editor and publisher, lives and works in Riverhead. She vaguely remembers having a life away from electronic gadgets before being consumed by her role as a digital-hyperlocal-news-entrepreneur-pioneer — lol— publishing RiverheadLocal.com with her husband Peter Blasl.