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June 5, 2012 4:30 PM   Subscribe

What We Left Out of Our Report About a Baby Who Died (And Why). The regional editor of Iowa's Urbandale Patch eloquently explains the reasoning behind the the paper's decision not to post the wrenching 911 call made when a 19-month-old baby had stopped breathing.
posted by shiu mai baby (30 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Christ, what an ... ethical and thoughtful editorial staff.
posted by gingerest at 4:37 PM on June 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


While I applaud the decision, I'm confused; was there some criticism of the paper for not posting the call? If so, I understand the need for the editorial. If not, why explain it, other than perhaps to say "look how sympathetic we are."
posted by Effigy2000 at 4:48 PM on June 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


If not, why explain it, other than perhaps to say "look how sympathetic we are."

To shame other news outlets for being the way they are. You hear enough shitty stories about journalism in this country, I'm glad to read one where they did something not designed as linkbait/sensationalism.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 5:05 PM on June 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Man, children who are in pain or dying are always, always really hard. They are part of the reason I did EMS for 5 years, and part of the reason I had to stop. I hope the woman involved here can get some counseling.
posted by poe at 5:05 PM on June 5, 2012


Did a competing news outlet release the call? I realize I could figure that out myself, but I don't really want to stumble on the call by accident.
posted by roll truck roll at 5:11 PM on June 5, 2012


If not, why explain it, other than perhaps to say "look how sympathetic we are."

Professional ethics. For a journalist, not reporting (*) some "thing" about a story is a big deal, and that's why they needed to explain it.

(*) And in the multimedia world, having the tape and not publishing it counts as that.
posted by gjc at 5:13 PM on June 5, 2012


> If not, why explain it, other than perhaps to say "look how sympathetic we are."

Sure. Or, put more charitably, because they thought writing about the decision would generate more and healthier attention and discourse than posting the call.

And hopefully they're right. I think attracting more inbound links for this post than they would've for posting the call would be a good outcome, not a bad one, especially as it helps readers cast a critical eye on how lots of other news outlets report tragedies.
posted by churl at 5:21 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


People had discussed the 911 tape and other news media's reporting on it in the comments of the earlier article, so this may well have represented a response to reader questions.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:23 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


shorter version: no one needs to hear that shit
posted by thelonius at 5:28 PM on June 5, 2012 [13 favorites]


Hurray for sound editorial judgment.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:29 PM on June 5, 2012


This does seem like a paper looking to recoup pageviews lost by (correctly!) not doing something unconscionable, but it could be worse, and I'm glad that it isn't. I don't find the piece praiseworthy exactly, and perhaps a more generalized editorial explaining this kind of decision-making would have been preferable (I'm sure the local readership would have read between the lines anyway), but running this certainly did less harm than running the call would have. I don't especially like that we're in a place where basic human decency needs to be explicitly rewarded, but I guess we are. Ambivalence to you, Urbandale Patch.
posted by wreckingball at 5:40 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


You should never listen to it, and you should rather destroy it. It should not be sitting on your shelf in your living room all the time.
posted by benzenedream at 6:21 PM on June 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm kind of horrified at anyone posting 911 calls to the Internet in the first place. Why is this okay, acceptable and legal anyway? Are we all entitled to hear every single painful call? Unless it's evidence in a court case (a la O.J.), I seriously don't understand why the world needs to hear those calls. Especially in situations like this.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:37 PM on June 5, 2012 [13 favorites]


While not posting the 911 call was the right thing to do, the article here seems needlessly self-congratulatory; it reminds me of Mike Huckabee in 2004, holding a press conference to announce that he would not be running a particular attack ad on Mitt Romney.

Which he then showed to the press, ensuring that it would be aired and discussed on every channel, at no cost to him.
posted by modernserf at 6:55 PM on June 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


The editor (and piece's author) in the comments: "Thanks for the support, guys. Anybody disagree with the call. I think there are valid arguments for having posted the tape -- even if I disagree with those arguments." That comes off as trying to stir the pot.
posted by nbergus at 7:14 PM on June 5, 2012


"Basic human decency" is not at all basic to humanity. It may be basic to some ethical standard that one applies to humanity, but not to humanity in general, because that assumes the existence of a universal Human Nature.

I congratulate these editors for going above and beyond the call of duty. I remain disappointed that the duty calls for so little.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:21 PM on June 5, 2012


I think the reasoning behind their decision is worth noting, if for no other reason than because so much daily media is dedicated to digging up gratuitous emotional 'titillation'. It attracts viewers. It sells. There's almost an expectation that the public is entitled to every last gory morsel of every tragic story. The editors' stance against this tendency is, IMHO, enlightened and heartening.
posted by Kibby at 7:25 PM on June 5, 2012


Ugh. There was even a question about whether to post that? Too far down a slippery slope for me.
posted by limeonaire at 7:39 PM on June 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Frankly, I don't much care whether or not the true intentions of the regional editor are as noble as they seem in the article; as pointed out upthread, the piece still reads as a pretty terrific example of doing the right thing when so many journalists and media outlets are all too eager to sellout journalistic integrity in favor of aiming for the really base aspects of human nature.

tl; dr: I will take a good ethical decision made with a smidge of self-congratulation over a bad ethical choice done humbly (or with willful obliviousness) any day of the week.
posted by shiu mai baby at 7:42 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


"All that said, not to post the tape was a fairly easy call." ... after all, we're not a New Limited publication
posted by mattoxic at 8:03 PM on June 5, 2012


While I applaud the decision, I'm confused; was there some criticism of the paper for not posting the call? If so, I understand the need for the editorial. If not, why explain it, other than perhaps to say "look how sympathetic we are."

Absolutely. And in many reputable journalistic outlets that existed before Patch came along, they would not only not add the information, they'd also resist this reprehensible urge to crow about it.
posted by Miko at 9:08 PM on June 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Relatedly – I have to say that I was really disturbed and angered by something like this recently. When the whole Trayvon Martin thing started becoming known (which bothered me no end and still does) I was listening to NPR one night and they thought it was no big deal and blithely played the 911 tape, which consisted of screaming and then shots fired. I was eating dinner, and listening to somebody die, somebody who I already knew died senselessly, was not really the way I'd wanted to spend my evening. But apparently even a higher-quality news source like NPR chooses to make such idiotic decisions. If I hadn't been distracted by other stuff in my life then, I'd have written them a letter – something I'd never done before. In fact, I think I might right now.

I appreciate and understand when these things are essential or material to the story; it is the duty of news outlets to present us with the facts, even when those facts are unpleasant. But in this case the news person followed up by describing what I'd just heard: screaming, and then shots fired. That description communicated the essence of it. I didn't need anything more. Sometimes I wonder if news agencies ask this question at all any more.
posted by koeselitz at 11:51 PM on June 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure how seriously I should take this. Patch is basically a collection of hyperlocal blogs linked by syndicated content, and while obviously it has at least a few contributors with professional journalism backgrounds (the abundance of supply being obvious), it's not at all clear that these constitute "newspapers" or "editorial staff" in any way that would be familiar.
posted by dhartung at 12:20 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


per the article, 13-month, not 19-month
posted by BurnChao at 12:43 AM on June 6, 2012


If I hadn't been distracted by other stuff in my life then, I'd have written them a letter – something I'd never done before. In fact, I think I might right now.

You should definitely take a minute and jot them an e-mail. Every time I've written a public radio program, I've gotten a serious response and that's been gratifying.

And I agree with you. I heard something similar last weekend - I think it might have even been on This American Life? - about a woman getting murdered while doing her convenience store job. They played the last conversation she ever had, with 911. I can't imagine being a family member and having to listen, and I don't think the "immediacy" or whatever the producers thought they were lending is at all worth the misery and sorrow and disrespect of listening to someone's horrific last moments on earth. There's absolutely no solid journalistic reason for it, and there really wasn't for Trayvon, either.
posted by Miko at 6:11 AM on June 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure how seriously I should take this.

I dropped by the same thing. My local "editor" is pretty much a blogger and the sole one at that.

Note to self: quit calling patch an online newspaper.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:21 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah. If Patch is an exemplar of the vaunted future we were promised as we were encouraged to dance on the graves of "dead tree" MSM, color me unimpressed.

At a newspaper, editors and reporters decided what was going to be in the paper the next day. We were paid to make judgments about what people wanted to read.

She says it like it's a bad thing. Poor newspapers. You just didn't know that the kids would find it cool if you called it "curating," "forensic data gathering," and "sharing" instead of "editing" and "reporting."
posted by Miko at 12:26 PM on June 6, 2012


Reporter's job is to report. The more information they can report to the public, the better. If people want to hear something horrible like that, that's up to the *people reading* to decide, not the editorial staff of a newspaper.

If this was a case of "we're not going to report on interracial marriages because we feel it's ethically wrong", people would be in the street, but that would be just as valid an argument for the paper to make.
posted by dethb0y at 12:26 AM on June 7, 2012


The more information they can report to the public, the better.

This isn't really true. People don't have time or attention to deal with all information. Reporters function as curators and filters to render information useful to people.

If people want to hear something horrible like that, that's up to the *people reading* to decide, not the editorial staff of a newspaper.

The filtering action applies here. The newspaper exists to be your ready reference and first source, not to present all information. If you need all information about a crime, you can go request a police report. If you need information about all crimes committed in your county for a span of ten years, you've got a lot of work to do. This was the filtering function of a newspaper - to formulate a reportorial question and answer it with evidence from documentary sources and eyewitnesses.

In other words, you don't lack access to information. But what you want a newspaper to do is to give you a summation of what's going on. You don't have time to deal with all the information. There is always a judgement being made about what's newsworthy - even by Patch. Don't think you're getting some unfiltered content on a site like Patch. IT's just not filtered with any particularly strong philosophy about information or the documentary record, or really much journalistic integrity at all.

People don't really have the option to read or not read something if they don't know the content first. The journalistic principle of newsworthiness used to guide these decisions. If releasing a detail - a particular element of someone's brutal rape, for instance, or the personally hurtful contents of someone's suicide note - would be extremely painful to the parties involved, but not add to the utility of the story for public decisionmaking, then it was common practice not to print it, because to do so would be sensationalistic - that is, creating a sensation only for the sake of creating a sensation, or perhaps to sell papers. There have always been media outlets who would make this choice, but they were relative to a standard set by more sophisticated and reputable news organizations.
posted by Miko at 6:19 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


dethb0y: “Reporter's job is to report. The more information they can report to the public, the better. If people want to hear something horrible like that, that's up to the *people reading* to decide, not the editorial staff of a newspaper.”

'Reporting on' and 'posting an audio clip of' are two very, very different things. You can do one without doing the other. I am not sure you can do both.
posted by koeselitz at 7:53 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


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