Chicago Stations Make Tough Call on Disturbing Video

By now you know the story....

4 black teenagers broadcast a Facebook live of them tying up, cutting, beating and taunting a mentally disabled man.

The video was disgusting as much as the act. 

It happened in Chicago and for stations there, they had to make the call on if they should air the video and how they should tell the story? 

Al Tompkins of Poynter writes that for Frank Whittaker, Station Manager and Vice President of News for WMAQ, verifying the video was more important than being the first to air it.

"I told my newsroom 'I don't necessarily need to be first on this story,"' Whittaker said.

At first, Whittaker worried that the video might not be authentic. It took nearly two hours for police to verify its authenticity, and they deferred further explanation until an evening news conference. Their briefing came after local newscasts ended, so WMAQ decided to downplay the story in the early newscast with a short voiceover until police provided more details.

When they decided to air the recording, some Chicago stations were unsure what to show. Jennifer Graves, the vice president and news director for WLS-TV, Chicago's ABC affiliate, said, "Even though we were looking at this video, for a couple of hours we didn't know for sure if it happened in our city or if it was even real."  We kept asking, "Was this a joke?"

When police confirmed the video was authentic, they did not provide details about the suspects, the motive or the victim. And, until Thursday, nobody was charged and still the stations stuck to internal guidelines not to name or show suspects until they have been charged even while the raw video showing the victim and the abusers flowed on social media.

Before they knew more about the video, local journalists took steps to mitigate the damage it might cause. Even though the Facebook Live video clearly showed the suspected assailants, WMAQ did not show the suspects' faces until police filed charges, Whittaker said.  The same conversations were going on at stations throughout Chicago.

"We didn't know if these people were juveniles," Graves said. "We just didn't know enough."

Across town, news organizations also blurred out the victim's face. Stations withheld the victim's name even though police made it public, said Jeff Kiernan, the vice president and news director at WBBM-TV. His newsroom plans to scale back use of the video in the coming days unless it becomes increasingly germane to the coverage for some reason. Instead, they'll use still images in follow-up stories; experience has taught him there will be many follow-ups in a case like this one.

FTVLive thinks that the Chicago stations handled the story well. They all used caution and still told the story. 

That's all you need to do in situations like this. 

H/T Poynter