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Sense before dollars, respect before clickbait

by The Concordian September 1, 2015

National Post’s coverage of WDBJ shooting despicable

If it bleeds, it leads. That’s a common saying in journalism, and is often why news sections and segments are packed full of bloody shootings, devastating natural disasters and tragic car accidents. People want to read about other people’s tragedy, and newspapers want people to read them.

But when does reporting become exploitation? And where should editors draw the line?

Exploitation happens when the boundaries of decency are crossed in an attempt to give the public something they don’t need, but can’t look away from. Tabloids have made a business of this kind of exploitation, but it’s not something expected of the National Post.

On Aug. 27, the National Post stooped below their station, compromising their position as a respected national newspaper, by publishing a front-page photo of WDBJ journalist Alison Parker moments before she was killed during a live broadcast. The screengrab is of the gunman’s own video, which depicts her recoiling in shock and fear moments before she is killed. This helps no one remember or mourn her more effectively—it was intended to shock.

The photo did not add any deeper meaning to the story. The Globe and Mail’s front page featured the same story and even also had a screengrab from the same killer’s video—but from a time before Parker noticed the killer approaching.

Journalists aren’t signed up to a single club or fraternity. Most of the time they bicker about even belonging to unions. But we a brethren, and that was one of our own moment’s before her death on the front page of a national newspaper.

It’s doubtful that the National Post would have immortalized the last moments of one of their own colleagues on the front page, so why not extend the same respect to a reporter south of the border?

Shocking images draw eyes and more clicks means more money.

It’s shameful behaviour for an outlet that is considered a responsible gatekeeper, a place to go and verify something you read on Twitter. There was no fault in their reporting; just a failure of taste and tact fueled by simple, but often savage, economics.

It isn’t just about how it was one of our own depicted moments before her death. It’s about how this was more tabloid than newspaper, and the National Post is better than that.

But apparently they need some reminding.

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