(Updated on November 21, 2014 to include information from a statement made by the Society’s Minnesota Pro Chapter.)
On Tuesday night, I published a blog post about a report that aired last week on KSTP, the ABC affiliate in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan area. The story became known as #pointergate on Twitter. On Thursday, the station aired a report defending the original story.
In the original report, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges is posing in a picture with an unidentified man flashing “known” gang signs, according to KSTP.
“5 EYEWITNESS NEWS admits, and reported, that the poses struck by Hodges and Gordon appear to be playful — simple pointing — and it’s hard to understand why such a seemingly innocuous photo could be potentially dangerous,” Tellier writes on KSTP’s website. “But police say the mere existence of it could put the public, and possibly police, in danger.”
As I asked in my original post, if KSTP believes its sources that the picture can cause violence toward police and the public, why would the station continue to broadcast it across the Twin Cities?
The new report is somewhat more specific on the source who brought the photo to their attention. Tellier writes that it’s a “local law enforcement source — outside the Minneapolis Police Department.”
The report says KSTP has “taken the picture to eight active police officers with multiple agencies.” Those officers – along with a retired officer – all “strongly agreed the picture was problematic,” Tellier writes. Yet, none of the active police officers are named or appear on camera.
Additionally, Tellier reiterates that KSTP concealed the identity of the man posing with the mayor and the name of the community organization that put on the event, where the photo was taken, because he “nor the group were the focus of the story — Hodges was.”
Tellier writes that other organizations made the man the focus of the report, and “5 EYEWITNESS NEWS feels it necessary to provide additional context on his recent history.”
The report then launches into a detailed description of the man’s arrest record and pictures lifted from his Instagram account.
While the man’s identity has been made public since KSTP’s original report, the question remains: Why is his arrest record, court documents and personal pictures relevant to the story? The station already established in its first report that its sources say the man is not in a gang.
The fact that a person has a criminal history does not give journalists license to publish or broadcast that information across the Internet – unless appropriate. “Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort,” according to the Society’s Code. “Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.”
KSTP may say the man was not the focus of the first story, but the beginning of the original report includes a detailed description of the man’s court records.
Last Sunday, I sent Jay Kolls, the reporter of the original story, a list of questions. On Monday evening I resent those questions to him and the station’s news director, who is currently out of the office. I did not receive a response.
I can’t say what response I hoped to see from KSTP after its original report, but I know it wasn’t what the community received on Thursday.
In all likelihood, the Twin Cities will move on and #pointergate will fade to the pages of case studies. Stories like this tend to leave a stain, however. KSTP will be wearing it for a long while.
In addition to issuing its statement, the Minnesota Pro Chapter and other local journalism organizations “will host a public forum on the ethical issues raised by this story at Cowles Auditorium on the West Bank campus of the University of Minnesota — on Dec. 8, 2014 at 7 p.m.”