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Shop Talk is a weekly panel discussion about journalism issues. This week’s program featured Will Buss, who teaches in the Department of Broadcasting and Journalism at Western Illinois University and advises the student editors at the Western Courier, the students at student radio station The Dog, and the WIU chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists; Rajvee Subramanian, who teaches in the Department of Broadcasting and Journalism at Western Illinois University; and TSPR News Director Rich Egger.

Going Undercover at School

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The Shop Talk panelists discuss two cases in which TV reporters tried to investigate security at local schools.

One of the investigations took place in Fargo, West Fargo, and Moorhead, North Dakota.  The reporter could have been charged with trespassing, but to avoid criminal charges she agreed not to cover those schools for 90 days

The other case happened near St Louis, Missouri, and caused a school to be placed on lockdown for a while.

The panelists have mixed feelings about the undercover reports.  Panelist Lisa Kernek believes undercover investigations should be done only if there is no other way to get the story, and panelist Rich Egger wondered if all other options were considered or if the stations simply chose an option that would yield the best video.

But Egger and panelist Jasmine Garcia also pointed out both investigations found holes in school security.  The focus should be on those flaws rather than the reporters’ actions.  Garcia was surprised to learn the reporter in North Dakota possibly faced charges.

The panelists also mentioned a couple other examples of undercover journalism:  the Food Lion case of the early 1990s, and writer Cameron Crowe spent a year posing as a student to gather material for what eventually became Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.