Media should consider release of sensitive content

The nation was sickened last week when news spread of the two Roanoke, Virginia, journalists killed on the job by the hands of a former coworker, police are saying. The shooting was captured on live TV and watched by millions online.

Many of the viewers never wanted to watch the live footage, and certainly not a clip from the perspective of the killer, who filmed the entire thing on a cell phone and posted the video on his social media accounts — a sick man granted the attention he had hoped for.

Social media sites are now reconsidering their video auto-play features, as they should.

Other news media across the country came forward asking social media users not to share the video out of respect for the victims’ families, and to limit concentration on the killer. Smart thinking.

The Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics — the bible, if you will, for journalists to live by — describes the duties of reporters when they cover grief, tragedy and victims.

Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage.

Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.

Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort.

Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials.

Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.

While avoiding the “share” button on Facebook last week would comply with these guidelines, it’s something for the media to continue to think about — what about the other times we cover grief, tragedy and victims?

When it’s not one of our own, do we always do our best to minimize further harm of the victims and their families?

Consider the release of 911 tapes, detailed description of crimes and other photo or video footage. In the case of the officer-involved shooting Aug. 22 in west Wichita, audio recordings of the officer in trouble raced around Twitter. But to what expense? At the shock, fear and pain of two sets of families?

The shooting in Roanoke was tragic. No other word can describe it.

Meanwhile, it is The Sunflower’s opinion that now is a good time for media outlets to consider what we share with our audiences in every instance, not just when it’s a twisted irony.

— The Sunflower editorial board