Media gets sucked into story. Mayor and reporter. Reporters and sources. Media “honoring” each other’s privacy. What’s this all about?
Transparency. Allowing the audience to know about relationships – and allowing the audience to make determinations about integrity and honesty. Two obvious cases. Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villagaigosa and Telemundo reporter Mirthala Salinas admitted to a relationship which has created a national stir. And today in tvpsy’s shoptalk column, Chicago reporter Amy Jacobson is “outed” for taking her kids to the home of a news subject (Craig Stebic) whose wife has disappeared. The explanation?
Jacobson reportedly got a phone call from Craig Stebic’s sister inviting her to go to the Stebic home to discuss the case.
In what Jacobson called a “lapse in judgment,” she drove there, with her kids and wearing her swimming suit.
Jacobson now recognizes that decision was more than just a “lapse.”
“I know I made a horrible mistake,” Jacobson told WGN-AM 720 radio on the day after she left her TV station.
That assessment is, I believe more accurate. That “horrible mistake” was about judgment, professionalism and ethics. Ironically, in this case, Jacobson’s demise was driven by other journalists.
Someone — it’s unclear who — videotaped Jacobson as she, wearing a swimming suit and a towel, spent time going in and out of Craig Stebic’s house.
There’s a couple of things working in the latter case. Poor judgment in going to a the home of a possible “person of interest” in off-duty clothes with kids. And another station airring video shot over a fence of Jacboson at Stebic’s house.
First – the audience in both cases needed the facts, yes. Salinas reportedly denied any off-duty relationship with Villagaigosa. An outright lie, if you will. In the second case…I would question why Jacobson felt so comfortable with Stebic that she felt she could turn up so casually and with her kids. She herself needed to let the audience know about this…and I’m sure they would, as I do, wonder what was going on. I mean – her own kids and in a swimsuit???
Next – I’m torn on this one. I’ve done my share of over-the-fence shooting. It’s okay at times (crime scene, cops know you’re doing it, the neighbor whose yard you’re in says you can be there). I’m not too sure about the source for this video…or the reason for shooting it. But I am somewhat behind the reason for airring it – if done properly. High profie people give up some of their rights to privancy. Jacobson, as a reporter whose face is on air frequently, is a high profile person in a swimsuit at a story subject’s house. Yep – she lost her right to privacy. And this is tricky…how should this information have surfaced? In a perfect world, her station would know and reprimend her and acknowledge publicly what happened, as Telemundo has done with Salinas. As it is, the video surfaced on another station.
Author of the tvspy article, Bob Steele who is a Nelson Poynter Scholar for Journalism Values, gives five to-the-point recommendations to consider in cases like these, beginning with “Think before you act” and reminding both staff and bosses of their responsibilities to fully disclose and discuss any potential landmines.
Oh yeah – and what about media respecting each other’s privacy? You mess up, I ignore it so if I mess up, you ignore it? Whoowheeee. At what point do these “mess-ups” become so big they can’t be ignored? I honestly don’t know. There are private matters that are truely private and private matters that should be public. Each is an individual call – they can’t all be judged together and no matter what you decide, you are damned either way. Just make certain in you heart and mind you back your decision.
Transparency…it’s to your benefit and allows your audience to trust you as a journalist.