Archive for October, 2017


Video: The Balance Between Necessary and Excess

Photo illustration of an antique television set.

(via Flicker Creative Commons/cpkatie)

Journalists and news organizations have been intensively covering Sunday’s shooting at the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas. At least 58 people were killed and over 500 were injured as spectators enjoyed a festival of country music.

At the core of the coverage has been user-generated content – eyewitness footage of the shootings. The sounds of gunfire and the anxious screams of the festival goers have been replayed on cable and network news broadcasts.

These videos played a significant role on Wednesday’s CBS Evening News. The footage was aired continuously without any advisory warning of their graphic nature.

The Society’s Code of Ethics reminds journalists to seek truth and report it, but also minimize harm. There are arguments for and against the replaying of this footage.

On one hand, the footage underscores the gravity of the situation and emphasizes the scale of what happened on Sunday night. On the other hand, the repetition of such videos can be seen as sensationalism – a way to utilize drama and to encourage viewers to stay tuned to the broadcast.

Striking the right balance between the necessary and the excess is tricky. Journalists and news organizations usually exercise discretion when it comes to how much of that footage will make up the eventual coverage.

The Code encourages journalists to consider the public when it comes to broadcasting graphic footage. “Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort,” the Code reads. “Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.”

There are three goals to keep in mind when covering these types of events:

  1. Verify the footage before it goes to air.
    If the video is submitted by social media, take the time to interview the creator and after determining the authenticity how it will help your story.
  2. Consider the public when broadcasting footage – and ask this question: “How much is too much?” as you plan your coverage.
  3. Be forthright with your audience.
    If the video is graphic or may upset a viewer, please state that the footage may be disturbing to some audiences, instead of just putting it on the air.

Graphic elements are sometimes necessary to tell stories. It isn’t done to scare people or to put them off. Instead, it is to help understand the story and the scale of events. An undue reliance on the footage has an impact on the public – and their relationship with the media.

Journalists should – as a result – think twice about using the footage and how it is presented, and be honest with the audience. You’ll ensure credibility and promote quality ethical journalism.


Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist in Minneapolis and a member of SPJ’s Ethics and FOI Committees. The views expressed are that of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Committee, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

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