Thursday, September 10, 2009

How much is too much?

I’ve been naïve. Let me just start by saying that up front.

Marietta news fans have no doubt noticed a marked difference between WMOA’s coverage of the Daniel Keck trial as compared with other local news sources. Even when the news is grim, I try to keep our show as family friendly as possible. In keeping with that philosophy, I try not to use terms that I wouldn’t want to have to explain to my kids. Not only do my two little girls hear my daily news reports, but I have always thought that most people probably don’t want the gory details first thing in the morning anyway. The news isn’t always positive and encouraging, but it doesn’t need to be hideous and appalling.

So, while the courtroom scene has been very graphic lately, we’ve stuck with words like “predator” instead of “sex offender” and we don’t go into much detail about the alleged crimes.

There are two distinct schools of thought on this one.

Some would argue that detailing the offenses may help to educate parents and better assist them in protecting their children. Others find the specifics are too much and it has even been suggested that they could serve as a how-to manual for would-be predators.

When there is a suspected predator on the loose, it’s important for parents to have the relevant information. But, how much should broadcast journalists tell – particularly about a predator in custody? It is a difficult question and finding the right balance can be a challenge.

On Tuesday evening, when the Keck case was handed over to the jury, I explained to my children that I was waiting for a verdict. My oldest girl, a ten year old, instantly interjected, “Do you mean the sex offender case?”

“Where did you hear that word?” I asked and was anxious to find out. “I don’t use that word.”

Kaitie explained that the source of her information was another local news operation and I shook my head in disbelief. While I had been diligent with my own newscasts, apparently I hadn’t been keeping my children far enough from the other reports. They didn’t understand what they had heard and they had a lot of questions now that the topic was out in the open.

How naïve I’ve been to think that I could keep the kids from the details I decline to discuss on air! Yet, this case was hardly something that eight and ten year olds could or should understand. Though I didn’t choose the situation, it did provide us with an opportunity to talk about strangers, bad touching, and the importance of sticking together.

For now, I prefer to stick with my theory and belief that most people probably don’t want to spend the first waking moments of their day thinking about sex offenders. However, I’d love to hear what you have to think.

How far is too far? How much should we tell? What is better left unsaid?

It’s your turn . . . what would you print or say if you ran the newsroom?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Why Prohibit the Broadcast of 9-1-1 Calls?

At least one Ohio lawmaker would like to make it illegal for broadcasters to play 9-1-1 tapes for the public. If he gets his way, doing so would result in a $10,000 fine.

Last time around, this bill went nowhere. But, it raises some interesting questions for me as a journalist and broadcaster.

First, passing such a bill would result in yet another exemption to the state’s sunshine laws, which are designed to provide transparency in government. In my book that’s a huge black mark for any legislative measure. However, as much as I love the sunshine laws, I have bigger problems with this particular proposal.

It has been my experience that most of the time when we play a 9-1-1 recording it happens at the request of law enforcement. Rarely is a tape requested for our own investigative reporting purposes. When we play these recordings, we are attempting to assist our local authorities in the execution of their jobs. It’s a service we provide to the public and integral to fulfilling our important role in the system of distributing information.

Here’s a case in point: At WMOA and WJAW, we recently played a series of 9-1-1 tapes at the request of law enforcement. The recordings were provided to members of the press without a formal request for the purpose of broadcasting to enlist the public’s assistance in the identification of a suspect. These particular recordings involved a series of fake bomb threats called in about our two local hospitals, Marietta College and Wal-Mart.

It’s the only time this year that we have used any 9-1-1 recordings for broadcasting purposes.

What would it accomplish to prohibit this kind of reporting? Who would be served by refusing access to the recordings themselves?

I can’t say for certain what is driving this legislation, but it makes me wonder how much certain legislators understand about the necessarily cooperative relationship between media and law enforcement.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Politics and Tea Parties in the Eyes of a 9-year-old

Sometimes the funniest insights come from my kids.

This evening the little munchkins and I had the pleasure of attending the Marietta Tax Day Tea Party in Muskingum Park.

As we walked away from this living history lesson, the girls were naturally comparing the event to the Boston Tea Party when Kaitlynne popped off with one of her amusing observations.

“Mom, if they dumped a bunch of stuff in the river now you wouldn’t think it was so cool,” she cleverly remarked.

She then proceeded to explain how I would report them to the authorities and write about it in the news!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Sometimes even I find the news shocking . . . .

There has been so much developing news on the C8 front lately. But, I have to admit that even I was shocked to learn that as recently as last year DuPont was still spilling large quantities of the controversial perfluorochemical into the Ohio River.

This information was not apparent from the administrative consent order drafted by WVDEP and agreed to by the company. Rather, we had to request the detail in order to find out that among the ten spills DuPont will pay $1.6 million in fines to resolve with the state, at least three were related to large quantities of C8 going into the river within the past three years.

Fortunately for Little Hocking and Lubeck consumers, their water is being filtered by means of a special system constructed by the company specifically for the purpose of reducing PFOA. However, Parkersburg and Vienna do not test frequently for the presence of C8 in their drinking water. So, I suspect that any potential spikes or surges brought on by these spills went undetected.

This makes it even more important that local consumers heed the advice of the ATSDR. Vulnerable populations – particularly the elderly, pregnant women and babies – need to be protected by reducing exposure as much as possible. Infant formula should not be mixed with local tap water. Pre-mixed formula is substantially more expensive, but there are alternatives not mentioned in the ATSDR guidance like bottled water or nursery water.

While it’s still too soon to know exactly what human health effects may result from exposure, there is good reason to be concerned about developmental effects, subtle changes in body chemistry, and weakening of immune responses.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Seven Years

The events of this week reminded me in so many ways that this spring marks seven years since I became a journalist.

It was either late February or early March 2002 when I received my first assignment from the Marietta Times. It was a feature story on fathers and their involvement with their kids' school activities - specifically it featured firefighter and world-class dad Matt Hively.

It was months after that before I was hired on by the paper as a real, full-time reporter. It all started one story at a time. At that moment in my existence, writing for a living was only a dream - a chance I thought worth taking under desperate circumstances. I had a part-time job as a bookkeeper and two babies to figure out how to feed.

Now, writing has become a defining factor in my life.

This week I had the honor of attending the annual awards presented by the Marietta Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (or MAIFA). Much to my delight, Matt Hively was presented with the award for the Marietta Fire Department.

Needless to say, the occasion reminded me to be grateful for how far we've come since that first story.

Though there was a 20-month interruption in my journalistic endeavor during which I vigorously pursued a different track, somehow the writer in me - once awakened - couldn't be squelched.

It wasn't a journey without struggle or invention. When it all started, I didn't even have a car or a computer from which to work. That first story - and so many that followed - were sent from the computer of my dearest friend who patiently provided the resources so I could become what I wanted. There were so many rides, so much reading and editing, encouraging and provoking me, feeding my intellect, helping me find myself and develop my style.

I've been so fortunate to have so great a partner in Robert. Because of him, I've been able to pursue endeavors once far beyond my imagination. Though it had always been my desire to be published, finding my way so quickly was only partly nature. It had everything to do with the support I received all along the way.

So much of the recent coverage has had me reflecting on the past. The MAIFA awards. The annual chamber dinner. (The first one I covered for the Times in 2003 featured Rich Galen, former WMOA News Director, as the keynote speaker.) All of the C8 and ATSDR stuff (two of my longtime favorite environmental issues) and, of course, the onset of spring in the Mid Ohio Valley.

It amazes me how every year, just when you least expect it, suddenly one day it's clear that Spring is imminent. Sweet little daffodills are beginning to open their sleepy little eyes and dot the way up Harmar Hill to the station. I saw some pretty purple crocus on Seventh Street. It makes me love this time of year that's just about to be.

One more thing about the MAIFA awards before I leave this dreary winter behind us for good - the annual event always reminds me of Fire Chief Ted Baker. And, with good reason. Three years ago I attended the event and as we enjoyed our cherry pie together we chatted about his photography hobby, his family and his plans for retirement. He was special to me and I was very fond of him. Sadly, that was my last chance to visit with Ted, but I've always been so thankful for that particular luncheon - and that final opportunity to cherish a friend.