WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Judgment Calls for News Departments – Part 2

Jun 17, 2014

The Shop Talk panelists discuss a decision made by a student newspaper after a mass murder in its community.

The Bottom Line, the student paper at the University of California – Santa Barbara, said in an editorial that it delayed publishing anything on the Isla Vista shootings because it did not want to risk printing misinformation. Editorial board members also said they wanted to minimize emotional harm for the paper’s staff.

Shop Talk panelist Lisa Kernek said those are noble goals but she added the news business simply doesn’t afford reporters the luxury of taking their time with big stories. She sympathized with the students because it was an awful story to cover, but she considered the newspaper’s decision “a bad call.”

Panelist Jasmine Crighton called it “a huge cop-out.”  She said the reporters on staff should know plenty of people from whom they could gather reliable information. She also said student journalists need to learn that the job is not always easy – a lesson they need to take with them if they end up working in the business professionally.

Panelist Rich Egger said reporters are often called upon to report on tragic events and deliver information as quickly as possible. He can’t imagine the national media waiting until a few days after September 11, 2001 to report on the attacks on America. Like Crighton, he said reporters for The Bottom Line should have worked their sources and attributed information directly to those sources.