Ethics in Journalism

4 Dec

“It was just one of those situations when you question everything you do. No room for mistakes,” said Brooke Chaplain.

Chaplain is one of the multimedia reporters on WTRF 7 News located in Wheeling, WV. Chaplain experienced a difficult ethical dilemma this past summer. She was on the scene for the terrible flooding that took place in the Ohio Valley. A 19 –year old girl and her boyfriend were swept away by the water. Chaplain had to make the decision whether to honor the family’s pain or to keep pushing with contacting the family to get the headlining story.

“I was covering it hours after she went missing. They were hoping she was still alive even though we all knew better,” said Chaplain. “I believe that’s a tough ethical/moral decision for a lot of journalists. We don’t want to step on toes, but we also have to prove ourselves by getting the best and emotional interviews.”

“I didn’t speak to the family directly,” said Chaplain. “They were just nearby. I kept speaking with the EMA Director at the time. They weren’t in denial, but hopeful she was alive. We all knew she was swept away though.”

The girl’s body was found a weeks later after she was missing, but the family was informed days later. For the boyfriend, his body was found first and taken to the hospital, but he died on the way.

“I think waiting was the right thing to do. I stuck with the officials and the facts. That way the family could worry or grieve and not blame me,” said Chaplain.

I believe that Chaplain did the right thing to wait. I feel that isn’t a journalist’s place to tell a grieving family their loved one was killed while their hopes are high. In this scenario, there is a fine ethical line to either be selfish and mess up a family’s morale just to get a good interview, or to give the family space and let the devastating realization slowly ease in. Just picture walking up to the family and asking, “What emotions are you going through having your loved one tragically killed by the flooding?” That just doesn’t look good. Then, you’d have to watch the family crumble in front of you. Even though having that interview with the family would be one to remember, the family should be respected and boundaries are still set in this case. Not to mention, what if the authorities were wrong? That would look even worse on you. A journalist telling the family someone they love passed away just hours after it happened would turn into chaos. I feel that is the authorities’ power to tell the news because that’s who people usually go to for that information. I would’ve done the same thing Chaplain did.

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