Wick Communications

Deciding what’s appropriate

In journalism on 19 May 2016 at 3:30 pm


It starts off as an ordinary party. A group of teens have gathered, and some of them had started drinking about 4 p.m. – four hours ago. … A few minutes later, Tori, is dead.

That was the gist of the first four paragraphs of a front-page story in the Capital Journal in Pierre, S.D., earlier this month. It was accompanied by a photo that, on first glance, seemed to show a body on the hood of a car, covered in blood. That’s it up there with this post.

Well, it’s not Tori’s blood, because there is no “Tori.” The body is an actor. The newspaper merely used a pretty typical writing device to cover a rite of spring at many schools. It was a school-sponsored anti-DUI campaign that employs a narrative and a very graphic re-enactment that is designed to highlight the dangers of drinking and driving and scare teenagers into sobriety during the graduation and prom season.

Regardless of whether you think these re-enactments are effective, it’s clear that the adults’ hearts are in the right place. If it saves one life, right?

I absolutely am not taking issue with what the Capital Journal did with this story and photograph. For one thing, it was accurately conveying what went on when each of 260 high school students was asked to parade past the graphic “post-accident” scene. And I hate a Monday morning editor as much as the next guy. What’s more: We’ve run similar things in the Review! …

Personally, I think this kind of lede has been done to death (pardon my pun). Once your paper has done it once, I would seek a different angle.

And I would seek some other photo. One time we ran photos of the kids smiling as they were getting their “bloody” make-up prior to taking part in the event. I thought it was the best version of this story we ever produced.

Here’s an idea: How about a video interviewing students afterward? Just 15-second cuts with their impressions. Or with the highway patrol guy running the event.

Want another? Is there any evidence these events are successful? Perhaps there is. I would check with the National Transportation Safety Board or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.



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