Case Study: Digital Deadline (M/W class)

For our first class next week, we will delve into another multimedia case study: Digital Deadline: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Kirkwood Shooting.

The case is part of the Knight Case Studies Initiative at Columbia University‘s Graduate School of Journalism. 90-day access to the case and all its multimedia features costs $5.95.

You can print out a PDF if you’d like, but take advantage of the multimedia elements, such as video and audio interviews with the main characters and links to their bios.

The case study assignment is worth 20 points. The first part, worth 10 points, is to post a brief response (250 words or less) as a comment to this blog entry addressing these two questions:

1. Does STLtoday.com owe its readers as much accurate information as it can provide in real time, even if it means stepping ahead of the police in confirming the names of the shooter and his victims? Why or why not?

2. What information should go in the next day’s Post-Dispatch newspaper?

Your response must be posted by noon Monday (or, if you’re in the T/TH class, noon Tuesday).

The second 10 points will be awarded on the basis of your contributions to the case study discussion in class.

Enjoy the case!

14 thoughts on “Case Study: Digital Deadline (M/W class)

  1. After reading the case study, I do believe that the readers of STLtoday.com deserve to know all accurate information about what happened during the shooting, especially if withholding information is putting the public in danger. However, there are ways of telling the story without conveying the names of the victims. I feel like the family should decide whether or not they are ready to release the name in the media or not. If they are, then its okay to publish, but if not then STLtoday.com should respect the family’s request. On the other hand, if someone has committed a crime so malicious as shooting five people, then that person has lost their rights to remain anonymous in the public eye.

    In the next day’s Post-Dispatch newspaper, all identities should be revealed, but the victims names should only be released if the police confirmed the names and/or the families gave the media permission. It doesn’t do the media any good to release the name of a victim if the family had asked them to leave the name out. It only creates frustration and distrust towards the newspaper, which is not the objective in writing the story in the first place.

  2. After reading the case study, I feel that STLtoday.com made the right decisions to withhold certain information from their web posts. I don’t believe they owe their readers all the information that is available at the time if the publication has yet confirmed it. If STLtoday.com had published inaccurate information, the consequences could be horrible. With sensitive subjects and breaking news like this, you must be confident and stand by every word. Immediate information is extremely powerful and taken very seriously, so it should always, above and before anything, be correct.
    Tomorrow’s Post-Dispatch should definitely include a whole summary of the story with the eye witness account from Janet McNichols. Having one of your own reporters as a source for information apart from writing the story gives your story and name more credibility. By removing McNichols from the scene as a reporter humanizes her and validates her story. They should also have her tell who she saw shot dead so that the newspaper isn’t held responsible for confirming those names. Then they can mention something less specific about the other victims. They should also include background and context from Thornton’s family members, so the story is told from as close to his perspective as the Post-Dispatch can get.

  3. STLToday.com certainly had the upper hand in reporting the story, but it needed to be careful with what information was revealed in both the online and print version. In my opinion, I think Jonsson had the right idea of publishing the identity of the shooter since McNichols was a first hand witness and trained reporter. Since she could have been in shock, he was sure to question McNichols repeatedly and fact-check everything. Furthermore, since Jonsson was confident with McNichol’s information, he sent another reporter to interview the shooter’s family, which added color and created a more compelling story. As far as the victims are concerned, Jonsson should have reframed from revealing their identity until there was an official police report. The worst thing a newspaper can do is to falsely report a victim. This will greatly hurt his of her family. Even though more information creates a better story and popularizes the newspaper and Web site, ethics must override everything. Further, it was difficult covering the condition and identity of the victims because when David Hunn was sent to the hospital, his efforts proved valueless. Hunn was not able to find quotable sources. Their stories were vague and suspect. In conclusion, the editors should only print the facts they were absolutely certain about and not focus too much on the victims.

  4. 1. Every media outlet, whether it is web, broadcast, print or radio owes the public accurate information at all times. In a competitive market that relies on timeliness and knows that newsworthiness is the most efficient aspect of news. Readers and listeners want to know the facts. The media outlet you work for should never be compromised because of one’s poor judgment. There is no room for mistakes in breaking hard news, especially because the outlet you represent must be the best source for information in your mind and because of that, in everyone else’s. It is the responsibility of a journalist to be quick, to be clear and to be loyal to its viewers. All that said, I feel that the media however, can release news as its “known.” If a reporter is aware of something the police are not, it is ok to use network assistance to aid in the news feed. However, the release of victims can often compromise the confidentiality between families and those affected by the tragedy.

    As an intern at WFAA in Dallas, I feel that I represent a media outlet that equally represents me. I believe in the mission of telling all types of people the facts of what is really happening in breaking news. I will never forget the chaos in the newsroom during the tragedy at Ft. Hood. Everyone was scrambling for names. The news director sent four different reporters to the Army base and local hospital while two anchors adlibbed an entire two-hour coverage for viewers in the Dallas/Ft Worth area. I was most impressed with the Twitter updates and the WFAA web team because they pushed every little fact that came in. Although we may not have been the first to release the names or suspects, we were factual and had all different multimedia connections throughout the country. It was a great example of quality convergent team coverage.

    2. Once the tragedy has attained full coverage and the newspaper has its hands wrapped around what “really” happened, I think news the next day should recount the five W’s (who, what, where, when and why.) This is the next step in the investigation because people often feel that after the chaos of breaking news, new truth and often a new investigation will be more critical to steps ahead. If the five W’s are attainable by the following day, someone is doing something tight.

    — Christina Murphy

  5. STLtoday.com owes its readers the most immediate news coverage it can provide, especially in the case of a breaking news story such as the town hall shootings. After the basic facts have been confirmed by a reporter or an eye-witness, timeliness becomes the first priority. I believe that it was appropriate for the news site to publish the news even before they had received confirmation from the police, because their reporter witnessed the events unfold. In my opinion, the paper should have only published the names of the two victims she had personally seen be shot. That was an eye-witness account; everything else was just gossip that cannot necessarily be taken at face value. And despite the fact that the nes editors had never met McNichols, they knew that she could be trusted because she was there and because she was a professional whose interests were aligned with those of the paper. Although they were competing with television stations to cover the news, the law is much more forgiving with broadcast than with print, even if it’s online.

    Because many of the details were still unknown when the story was being published, it was important that those in the newsroom work together to produce both the print and online versions of the story. The articles would complement each other, with the website reporting instant updates and then the newspaper would use the morning publication to fill in details and provide in-depth profiles of the people involved. This way, the news organization both breaks the news in a relevant, immediate way, and also follows up with meaningful background information about the incident.

  6. Although STLtoday.com owes its readers immediate and accurate information, immediate news coverage does not necessarily mean all the current information. Providing accurate information to readers involves fact checking and proper sourcing. Going off of what a witness hears police saying as she is corralled into a holding room, does not wholly qualify as accurate information. Even though the witness was a news reporter, she was very shaken after the event; so shaken, in fact, that she could not operate her cell phone. In such a case, she is just a witness and no longer a reporter. It is important that STLtoday.com immediately posts news of a town hall shooting including location and time, but it is unnecessary to provide names of victims until those names have been officially confirmed (not overheard by a witness) by the police. STLtoday.com was smart to post the name of the shooter and the fact that he had been shot, so readers would know he was not at large. But posting the names of victims without official confirmation seems a bit greedy because family members might not know of the deaths yet.
    Similar to the Devlin case, the next day edition of the Post-Dispatcher could include a profile of the shooter and basic information regarding the story. It is important that the Post-Dispatcher include similar information to the online story, because STLtoday.com’s readership declines after the work day (when the shooting occurred). This way, readers can get the information from either the newspaper or the website since they are directly related.

  7. After reading this case study, it changed my perspective on how to deal with releasing names. I believe that it is okay and fair to release the number of victims that were injured, or died during the shooting. However, I do not think it is tactful to release the names of those who were shot or died, before their families are contacted. Stepping ahead of the police shows that media outlets are power hungry and insensitive. Even though the shooter committed a horrible crime, his family has the right to be treated the same as the victims. Morally, it is the right thing to do.
    I understand that the Post-Dispatch wanted to do what would best serve their audience, and I believe the best way to get the news out there is to let the audience know what was going on the day of the crime. Then, the next day, after the police reports have been confirmed, tell the audience who the shooter and his victims were. It is more important to be a credible and reliable news source than a power hungry, insensitive one.

  8. I understand that STLtoday.com wants to deliver news that is immediate to their readers but what they also owe their readers is accurate information about what happened at an event as critical as a shooting. As a reporter I think that you should be sensitive to the situation and put your shoes in the those of the family members and they should be consulted with before releasing any names of victims. I just feel as though it is the ethical thing to do as a reporter in my opinion. I know in my personal opinion I would want to be contacted and asked beforehand if the name could be released. I feel like you can still convey the story before consulting the family without using the name but more so descriptions such as age range or what not. So I think a summary should be included tomorrow they should just be careful and sensitive towards the feelings of the family members.

  9. I think STLtoday.com does have an obligation to provide the accurate information it has, but only to a certain extent. Because reporter Janet McNichols was at the scene, she most likely can confirm details—the case study says that she recognized the voice of the shooter. His name, I think, can be identified as long as a secondary (or even third) source confirms it. The victims, however, are more sensitive. The reporters stationed at the hospital should monitor victims progress, and updates to the website should be made, such as “three are wounded” or “four are confirmed dead.” I think names should be left out at this point in case families have not communicated with the victims or gotten word of their status.

    In the next day’s Post-Dispatch newspaper, all accurate information surrounding the case should be contained in the report. By the day following the crime scene, most, if not all, people close to the case should have knowledge of the details. Victims’ names should be included (as long as accurate information has been obtained from the hospital and/or victims’ families) as well as the shooter’s name, background information, and status (was he taken into custody, arrested, charged? etc.) The latter information can and should be obtained by contacting the police department.

  10. I believe that STLtoday.com should provide as much information as possible, but there are boundaries. For example, I think that it is justified for the paper to release the name of the shooter because they have confirmed it with Janet McNichols who was in the building. I would think, due to her condition and traumatized state, that this information should be confirmed by another source before printing it. In terms of releasing names of victims, I would not release any names. The reporters were unable to confirm the victims, except for Kerr whose ex-husband called. Until these victims are confirmed and victims families have been notified the paper should hold off and simply announce a number of wounded victims.
    The following day all information is fair game for the paper. Families should have been notified by this point and police reports will have been released, so releasing names is fine and expected. The story should contain an accurate account of the event and all vital details should be included. It is important to include as much information about the shooter as possible- past and present information.

  11. 1. I think that the STLtoday.com does owe it’s readers as much information as possible and real time updates would be a great thing to be able to provide for its readers. But I do not think that they should step in front of police in the investigation and go out and confirm any peoples names of the shooter and of the victims. A good news site should always wait until the police confirm the names of either the shooter or the victims. If a news site releases names before the police can confirm them there is a chance that they could be wrong. If a site misnamed people as shooters or victims they could possibly be sued.

    2. Information in the next days story should include an overview of what happened along with the number of dead or wounded that are present. They should also explain what happened to the shooter even if he is unnamed. They should include how long the incident lasted for and whether or not it has been resolved.

  12. I think STLToday.com should definitely publish all of the details of what happened, but shouldn’t publish any names of either the shooter or the victims until after the police have announced it to the public. Regardless of what happened, the families and friends of the people involved in the incident should find out from the police, and not from the media. Once the people that need to know the information have been notified, the media should be allowed to publish whatever they would like, unless a victim’s family objects to it and asks the media not to publish a name. Although the media may think it’s important that the masses know every detail, the wishes of a family who have lost a relative should be honored. Waiting for the police to announce names or other details is also a good idea so that the media can make sure they have their facts straight, all the names spelled the right way and everything correct. This should be followed in this case especially, as the source was in shock and may have been confused and given incorrect information. Let the police do their job and find out exactly what happened, and then report on the truth- not on hearsay or a story that may or may not be accurate.

  13. After reading the case study I do not believe that the STL.com staff should provide there readers with up to the minute stats, especially if it means going ahead of the police. The police have a job to do as well. They are supposed to get the information of the case, and evaluate what they think happened. I believe that once the police have done there job should the STL.com staff publish the facts of the shooting. The families of the victims should not have to find out what happened via the media, yet instead should find out through the police

    The information that should go in the next days paper is simple. I feel that they should talk about what happened, and when and where the crime took place. They should name the shooter, because what he did was wrong. However the names of the victims should be held out of the story until they can confirm for sure how was shot, and who was killed.

  14. 1. I would have to disagree with the idea of posting information even if that means over stepping its boundaries and posting information. The information that they might post could some how interfere with the investigation. The possibility of giving the information of a victim is okay, I feel that the family and community needs to know that. But not who there possible leads might be, that could alert them. The STL.com staff does have a right to publish up to the minute news, but not at the expense of messing up a case. I would like to believe that they would not do this, because to me it makes them look tacky. It is just not right to go one step ahead of the police, because they have a job to do as well.

    2. The information that should go in the next days newspapers should be as follows. They should tell when and where the crime took place. They should also express if the police have any leads, however not mention there names until they get a definite okay from the police. The victims name I feel should be publish unless the victim was a youth, then I feel they should at least get permission from the victims family to have the name published. If the family agrees to it, then I would probably have the family of the victim speak out. I believe that the families input is very valuable to the story , and could help show the pain that something like this can cause.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s