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The Public Demands It
Watch Video Crime reporting has risen dramatically in newsrooms across America, and some studies suggest viewers want more of these stories. Mediascope, a non-profit media research and policy organization, released a report in which it stated, "Market research suggests that stories of crime and violence increase newscasts' ratings." This finding drives news directors to deliver more crime-related stories to their audiences.

If it bleeds, it leads As fascinating as crime may be for some viewers, is it right that a local news station air the gory details of a tragic event, possibly jeopardizing an ongoing police investigation, and violating suspects' rights? How much does the public need to know?

For reporters, the struggle over how far to pursue a story may present serious ethical and even moral complications. Investigative reporting, on any level, requires asking invasive and sensitive questions of people who may not want their privacy invaded. In one episode of LOCAL NEWS, reporters Alicia Booth and Glenn Counts are assigned to report the story of a young boy who was murdered. Back in the newsroom, pressure was laid on staff to comb the affected community and gather leads and sound bites. The strong need among stations to compete for viewers and ratings compels news directors to push reporters to their field research limits.

One Reporter's Ethical Struggle
Watch Video "In this day and age, people want to know what's happening right now. They need to know what's new and what's now. And if you don't tell them -- if you can't tell them what's new and what's now -- they're gone. ... And you need to take that story and find out what's new, and put that at the top of the story," said news director Connors as he urged on his reporters during the investigation. Sentiment among staff members, however, was grim. They felt going into that community was pushing it too hard. Alicia Booth waged an internal battle over going into a community suffering from loss to ask neighbors for reactions and comments. She felt she was intruding, and so did the community.

Aside from the moral and ethical objections of some reporters to acting with disregard for suffering victims, there is a far more practical reason for exercising restraint. In-depth crime reporting and investigating depends upon reporters and producers cultivating and sustaining relationships with well-placed, informed sources, often employees of the police department or other city, county, or state agencies. If a reporter burns those bridges by revealing confidential information that impedes an investigation, those sources may, in the future, refrain from sharing information.

Watch Video When WCNC reporter Alicia Booth was alerted by a close source that a juvenile was a suspect in the murders, she had to decide what level of responsibility to take if she chose to share the breaking development with the public: "I'll ask them [the source] point blank, 'is this going to compromise the investigation and what is the motive for leaking this.'"

It often falls to reporters to restrain stations from revealing critical, high-profile information associated with crime-related investigations. "The story with the kid is a big deal," said Glenn Counts in describing the thin rope of reporting this sort of incident. "But the danger is, something like this hits and they want to go galloping like wild horses, and we got to make sure that we are not galloping off a cliff here ..."

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