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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Think Before You Write or Edit

On one of the busiest breaking news days at Annenberg TV News in my time at USC, news judgment was always on my mind.  With the devastating loss of two members of our Trojan family, as a producer, it was crucial to stress sensitivity amid the comprehensive coverage.  You never know who you might be talking with.  We knew it was important to talk with neighbors who lived nearby as well as parents and kids at the Explore programs who are looking at USC for a potential college.  As journalists, we have to walk a fine line between getting the story and not offending anyone or, in the latter matter, turning them off to USC, a wonderful institution. 

When these types of tragedies happen, news judgment extends past the words into the video as well.  Since it was pretty much crime scene tape and video of the neighborhood, the video featured in the stories about the murders was sensible.  However, when events like September 11 and other tragedies happen, as media, we need to be aware of who might be watching the coverage, whether it be young children of families affected or people sensitive to the issue.

In addition to the video and the words, the amount of time allotted for a story is imperative when considering news judgment.  At the morning meeting, we were struggling to determine if we wanted to have four packages about the murders and its implications for the USC and Chinese community.  At that early stage, we determined that it was a large and developing story that affected our community.  It was important to spend most of the A block covering every angle we found to be pertinent.

My news judgment especially kicked into high gear when helping to cover the vigil last night at Tommy Trojan.  It was difficult to get people to talk to me as I held the camera and tripod.  As journalists, there is a fine line between exploiting the story and getting the story.  It is part of our job to be sensitive to those mourning a loss yet ask the questions that need to be answered to show the rest of the community the impact of these types of incidents.

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