Thursday, October 1, 2009

Teen violence online -- how to cover?

Law enforcement reporter Robert Napper got a tip early Wednesday that a teenage brawl last week in Lakewood Ranch had turned really ugly -- and landed on YouTube. And that started some intense conversations in the newsroom on our ethical responsibilities, and how to report the news.

The incident involved middle-schoolers -- juveniles, so the laws on accessibility immediately become limited. We finally found the video on YouTube, and some faces were clearly identifiable.

I called the news editor at Bay News 9, our TV partner. His advice: Try getting the family's permission first, and then, if that fails, protect their identity. But the video is out there, and it's an enormous part of the story.

Hours later, after Robert had found out as many details as possible about this story, Bay News 9 helped us with their video expertise to make sure the teens -- particularly the victim -- were not identifiable. We posted the video with today's story.

Late this afternoon, the victim's mother called us for the first time, asking us to remove the video because prolonged exposure prolonged her son's pain. Her request was reasonable and we honored the family's wishes.

About the same time, however, another mother called about another fight today on a middle school campus that sent her daughter to the hospital. "I saw your story today, and I can't believe my daughter is going through this now," she said. "You have to report how these bullies feel they can get away with anything. They can't!"

Did the kids plan last week's fight just to get their video out there for attention? Maybe. How much exposure should we give such actions in the Herald and on How to punish such violations? I don't think our justice system has the answers yet.

-- Joan

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