a. Victims should expect multimedia coverage
b. There are no more local only stories
c. Print reporters shooting video need training on victim issues
d. Citizen journalists need information on victims issues
e. Online articles and mistakes can live forever
f. News organizations need victim input in decisions on citizen comments
Special Challenges for Act I and Act II Stories
Commercial media in the United States face continuing challenges in maintaining the profit levels that stockholders expect in the face of declining readership and viewership. National and local newspapers, television stations, and magazines are exploring ways to cut costs and extend their reach by migrating onto the World Wide Web. While the final format has yet to emerge, most news sites mix text, audio, video, and slideshows with citizen input and commentary through video and photo contributions and comment sections, forums, and blogs. News organizations may well find that how they treat victims and victim issues in this new environment will have an effect on how people assess their credibility, reliability, and professionalism in this new multimedia, online world.
The changes are coming so quickly that it is difficult to stay abreast of the latest trends and is even harder to assess their full impact on crime reporting and reporting on victims. Among the things we see happening today:
- Victims should expect multimedia coverage. The days when a print reporter carries only a pencil and notebook are rapidly disappearing. Jennifer Carroll, Vice President for New Media with Gannett Company, Inc., said that the company’s newspapers are investing in training new “mojos” (mobile journalists).3 These reporters are outfitted with a laptop, videocamera, camera, and recorder so that they can produce multimedia stories that they can upload to their editors quickly from the field. These reporters are expected to include video and audio with almost all the stories they cover.
- There are no more local-only stories. The global reach of the Internet means that people around the world can access news articles that would have previously been difficult to view outside the local community. This has implications for crime victims who are uncomfortable with others knowing what happened to them. Putting a victim’s name in a search engine can mean that the news about their victimization is one of the first things a visitor learns about them.
- Print reporters shooting video need training on victim issues. Chet Rhodes, Deputy Multimedia Editor of The Washington Post, has already trained 60 of the Post’s 400 reporters who will all eventually be asked to shoot video for their stories.4 The 4-hour training course he provides is not designed to produce traditional broadcast quality video, but it allows journalists to augment their print stories with moving images edited by the Web team. Print reporters therefore may not fully understand how intrusive shooting video can be and the additional burden this imposes on victims and witnesses. Print publications in particular should work with reporters to educate them about how to videotape victims with sensitivity and dignity.
- Citizen journalists need information on victim issues. Cable news company CNN encourages its viewers to provide video and photos through its iReport project.
Many print and broadcast news organizations are creating similar programs to encourage citizen-generated content (which has the virtue of being free). Of concern, however, is how far untrained citizen journalists may go in trying to cover news involving victims. News organizations should consider posting links to information such as this guide on their Web sites to help citizen journalists understand what crime victims want and need.
- Online articles (and mistakes) can live forever. News organizations and victims will not always agree on what should or should not be printed. In an online news world, however, articles that victims, their family and friends, and victim advocates find offensive, misleading, or unbalanced can remain infinitely retrievable through search engines. As this suggests, victims in particular can have concerns that someone who searches for their name years later may learn about their victimization even though the victim wants to move on. This can be of particular concern if the original article contained errors, since news organizations vary in their policies related to archiving articles and making corrections. Some have chosen to archive original articles, along with subsequent changes or corrections, while others archive the corrected originals, with or without additional notation. News organizations should consider including victims and victim organizations in their discussions on developing these policies.
- News organizations need victim input in decisions on citizen comments. Many online news sites allow visitors to post unmoderated and unedited comments at the end of their news stories. The goal is to encourage citizen input but anonymous posting also results in postings that are abusive or insensitive. This has obvious implications for victims and those who care for and work with them. Some news organizations are so concerned about abusive postings that they spend the money to have one of their employees check each entry before it is posted. Others are experimenting with automated filtering software. News organizations should work with victims and victim organizations to develop solutions that protect victims. Until filtering software ensures that victims will not be harmed by anonymous posters, news organizations should do what it takes to prevent abusive posting on stories involving crime victims.