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Why TV News Can Be Upsetting to Viewers


With apologies to Channel 4 for borrowing a slogan, nobody does apologies like Channel 2.

On its 5 p.m. newscast Monday, anchor Maryalice Demler delivered what amounted to an apology for sending a reporter to a local school for a story on the security plans of Western New York schools on the first day of classes since the tragedy in Newtown, Conn.

Demler explained that a parent named Jennifer complained on Facebook because a Channel 2 reporter went to a local school to interview parents for the story in the aftermath of the national tragedy that ended the lives of 20 young children and seven adults.

“It is hard enough (my son) was scared all weekend,” wrote Jennifer on Facebook. “But now, to see a reporter first thing to start his school day? Poor judgment.”

Maryalice Demler

Demler said the comment attracted support with more than 2,000 Facebook likes and 200 mostly negative comments, which led to an internal discussion inside the Channel 2 newsroom. She added the station decided not to run any interviews with parents at the school who agreed to be interviewed.

“At 2 On Your Side,” said Demler in her most sincere sounding voice, “we listen to our viewers… It is part of our commitment to give you a voice in what we do as we cover our community. And thank you for the feedback.”

I’m sure this bit of transparency about how it operates made some members of Channel 2’s news team feel good about themselves. However, I can see the relevancy of interviewing parents about how they feel about school security since I have friends who have told me their young children were concerned about going to school Monday.

This is one of the times that a disconnect between the media and viewers over appropriate coverage is totally understandable. Both sides are right. However, I wouldn’t have felt the need to tell viewers that it “listens” to them and can be influenced by them.

If you’re going to have the public vote on how to handle the news, you are going down a dangerous road. A vocal minority will always disagree with how the news media covers events, tragic or otherwise.

By its nature, the news is intrusive and focuses on the negative more than the positive. The way the news is covered always upsets some viewers. You just hope that news departments know where the line is that shouldn’t be crossed.

As I have written before, I thought it was crossed Friday when reporters interviewed young survivors in Newtown immediately after the tragedy. As Connecticut State Police Lt. J. Paul Vance said Monday, interviewing young schoolchildren is a “very, very tender issue” and needs to be done “with trained professionals around.”

However, there is a school of thought that the media’s coverage of the events in Newtown has overwhelmingly been a positive despite all the mistakes made in initial reports.

The positives include allowing parents like Robbie Parker to give a tribute to his beautiful daughter Emilie, who was one of the young children who was killed. I don’t think I’ve seen anything more powerful and emotional this week than Parker’s heartfelt remarks.

When “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams said on Wednesday night’s newscast that the network reduced its presence in Newtown because “so many people wanted to be left alone” I thought of Parker and his daughter. As understandable as it was that people in Newtown were tired of NBC’s presence, its coverage of the very sad funerals at least gave more children the sweet goodbye that Emilie Parker received.   

The positives of the extensive coverage also include starting a dialogue about gun control laws that could actually lead to some much-needed changes led by President Obama, who noticeably avoided the issue as much as possible during his first term.

The primary negative is that news often can scare people when it covers almost everything. A constant diet of local and national news could scare you from driving to urban areas, eating certain foods, and now even sending children to schools.

I appreciate Jennifer’s concerns. Besides writing on Facebook about them, let’s hope she had a dialogue with her scared son about the media after the school day ended. Hopefully, she told her child the media isn’t trying to scare us in this case, but instead is trying to educate us and reassure us that you will be safe at school. It is a good thing.

I don’t see what Channel 2 gained by not running the interviews it had done. That didn’t help Jennifer or the 2,000 people who liked her comment. I’m even guessing that some of those unseen interviews would have been reassuring to some degree.

If it felt the need to talk to its audience about its coverage, Channel 2 should have had Demler explain why it thought interviewing parents was worth doing rather than tell why it didn’t run something.

The poor judgment was in not allowing viewers to see what Channel 2 had done. Because this might have been one of the times it was scarier to imagine what was in those interviews than actually seeing them.



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7 responses to "Why TV News Can Be Upsetting to Viewers"

  1. Tina says:

    For the mother whose son was “scared all weekend” how exactly did he get that way? Was he allowed to watch the news? Was mom discussing it at home? How old is this child who was so scared? Apparently he already heard about this somehow. I could see how it would be a bit scary for a young child but a young child shouldn’t know all of the details anyway. The news reporter was only doing his job and to make such a fuss is silly.

    I really like the way that Anderson Cooper and CNN have handled this situation. They are trying not to discuss the shooter or even mention his name much. The idea is to focus on the victims and not publicize this monster for even a minute more than they may have to.

    • Jill says:

      Totally agree with your first paragraph. Not so sure about the second. I’m not for censoring the news…but I agree they should focus mostly on the victims and those who tried to save them like the young teacher who became a victim herself

  2. Doug says:

    Whatever the response was, it should have been given on facebook, and not on the air. Its also important to understand that you have a better chance of winning powerball than you do of getting shot in a mass shooting in school –

    Its actually ignorant to fear something that will never happen to you in a million years.

  3. Jill says:

    I pretty much agree with everything in this column. However, I think those upset with seeing the children interviewed on TV need to realize those kids were spoken to (I’d bet my last dollar)only with the consent of their parents. So perhaps the ire should be directed more toward those parents, not so much the reporters.

  4. chuckp says:

    “If you’re going to have the public vote on how to handle the news, you are going down a dangerous road.”

    In this day and age when stations like Ch. 2 & 4 push people SO hard to Facebook and Twitter to comment on EVERY story, you have to be prepared for the good and the bad.

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