December 4, 2015

As tawdry as it looked to have a barrage of reporters trampling through the residence of the deceased couple responsible for this week’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, the journalists who walked through the door did the right thing.

But the journalists who broadcast the invasion live were irresponsible.

As a reporter, your primary obligation is to gather information that will help your audience understand all facets of the story. Are you likely to find information in the home of the suspects that could shed some light on the facts? You’ll never know unless you go in.

But first you must determine if you have legal permission to enter the residence. Has the property owner indicated that you can go in? Have law enforcement cleared the scene?

Reporters always have an obligation to ensure they report information accurately and responsibly. Because any information you gather by prowling through someone’s home is inherently out of context, the newsrooms that use this information have a duty to put it in context.

Think about the conclusions that one could draw by walking through your home. What medicine is in your bathroom? What books are on your shelf? How messy is your bedroom? Without context, this information becomes the source of pure speculation.

It requires a rigorous reporting and editing process to determine what information is relevant and what additional reporting is required to present that information in a responsible context. Broadcasting live precludes that process and makes the reporters more voyeuristic than journalistic.

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Kelly McBride is a writer, teacher and one of the country’s leading voices when it comes to media ethics. She has been on the faculty…
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