When journalism goes too far

Saturday, September 13, 2008

By Austin Bates

It is journalism's duty to the American public to report on current, relevant, and meaningful events, in order to enlighten and keep the American public up-to-date about various news items. But is there a point when journalism can go too far, cross ethical lines, and face serious question and criticisms from the public about its tactics and methods? I believe there is, and at least a few others would agree.

I raise this question in the growing concerns of journalism's place in reporting on events like private funerals. Things like a funeral, unless it is advertised as a large, public event, should not be reported on live by reporters. While John Temple in his article argues that as long as the journalist reports in a unobtrusive manner, say from a secluded spot of the funeral, and does so respectfully, such actions should be fine.

However, I have to argue that even if the journalist is being as discreet as possible, someone is still bound to notice, especially if there are a number of people attending. From my personal viewpoint, if I saw someone reporting live from a funeral, I would be disgusted. And while Temple says the reporters who work with him never enter a funeral without prior permission, I can't imagine all journalists might follow that code.

Funerals are supposed to be solemn, respectful events, and if private, they are supposed to be private, secluded from the public's prying eye and questions and criticisms.

I do believe, however, that reporters should be able to attend a private funeral, if allowed, and take notes quietly, and then write a report on the event later. I see nothing wrong with this approach; the public would still get their story and information, and the funeral goers would get their peace and respect.

I can't help but also raise the question of whether technology has anything to do with the increasing attendance of journalists to otherwise private or off limit events, that they would never have covered before. With the advent of smaller, more advanced, and more connected devices, it makes it much easier for journalists to be places they might not be allowed to be at, or should be at. With better gadgets, journalists seem to increasingly going past boundaries they should not cross.

In any case, I believe journalism should be free to cover most of what it wants, how it wants; after all, this is the very premise of journalism and its duty to the American public. But some events and places should be off limits, such as private funerals. Besides, what ever happened to "rest in peace"?


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