You make the call: Westboro Baptist & the Powell funeral

My approach as a journalist was always to try to keep it simple – to clearly see things for what they were, and find the core of truth. In so doing, it was not uncommon to run up against what you might call the “limits” of journalism. westboro-baptist-church

Objectivity and fairness are basic tenants, but so is truth telling. How can journalists tell truth, and not allow their work to devolve into simple “he said, she said” morally neutral stenography? It is one of the central challenges of the craft – especially as you mature as a journalist, develop a voice, gain life experience and have a point of view. There is no answer here, it’s just a look under the hood.

So how should the Westboro Baptist Church’s protest of the Powell funeral be covered? Does “balance” play a role here? Is Westboro’s perspective equally as valuable as the perspective of others? Is there a clear right or a clear wrong? I think there is, but it’s a question you have to ask every time.

Surely Westboro’s presence is newsworthy. But by the same token, what purpose is served by providing them with the media coverage they so clearly crave?

If you were the news director at one of the local TV stations, how would you go about this.. covering the news without allowing a radical agenda to hijack the coverage and the “truth” of the situation – that a community is mourning the loss of two innocent children? How would the coverage look? How would reportorial resources be allocated? How would the show be stacked? How much time would be allotted to the various aspects of the story? Would your decisions change if you were, say, looking at the story from Portland, Spokane or Chicago?

I think I have an answer to this and I think you can divine it from the set up, but this blog isn’t about me – it’s about providing you insight into media and getting you to consider some of the challenges associated with the nature of journalism, the power of video, the effects of marketing and messaging on our collective psyches and the role technology, video production,  and the changing media landscape plays in it all.

So that’s your challenge. Put yourself in the role of a TV news director, or the editor of the News Tribune and tell me how you would manage this event.