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Journalists discuss coverage of Virginia news crew shootings during EIJ15 session


Sept. 19, 2015

Scott Leadingham, SPJ Director of Education, 317-640-9304, sleadingham@spj.org
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Communications Strategist, 317-361-4134, jroyer@spj.org

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Hundreds of journalists filled a hotel ballroom in Orlando Saturday morning to take a closer look at coverage of the Aug. 26 shooting deaths of a Virginia television news crew. The audience heard a first-hand account of how the station dealt with the situation in the hours and days following the incident from WDBJ-TV news director Kelly Zuber. Leading the conversation was CNN's Brian Stelter. Also on the panel were digital journalist and former manager of journalism and news at Twitter Mark Luckie, and Scott Libin, ethics committee chairman of the Radio Television Digital News Association.

Zuber talked frankly about the shock that swept through the newsroom as they learned not only that two of their colleagues had died on assignment, but that the man responsible for the shootings was a former employee. "I'm not sure how we got the news on the air that day," Zuber said.

Luckie talked about the role social media played as the situation unfolded, including how the shooter was posting material on Twitter and Facebook before the social networks were able to shut down his accounts. Luckie said people were sharing the video, which auto-played on people's timelines, before it was clear where and how the video was posted. "I sometimes cringe when I see lists of Twitter reactions to events like this, because it amplifies the tragedy."

Libin addressed the ethical decisions facing newsrooms across the country, about whether and how to use video from the incident in newscasts or online. "If we show the video on the air or on a website without giving readers a choice of whether to launch the video themselves, are we contributing to spreading the shooter's intent?" Libin asked.

Zuber talked about the difficulty of being both the victim of a crime and the media outlet expected to report their story to its community. "Vester Flanagan raised the bar on murder. We need to ask, how do we raise the bar on journalism?" She added that it was appropriate for viewers to see that they were in pain as a group of people, and not stoic journalists somehow removed from the situation.

The discussion was a training session of Excellence in Journalism 2015, the combined national convention of the Society of Professional Journalists, the Radio Television Digital News Association and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, being held this weekend in Orlando.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information on SPJ, please visit spj.org.


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