Friday, July 30, 2010

One Sided Reporting, Anyone?

BIAS DISCLAIMER: This post is about a news story regarding a cemetery owned by my parish church. I’m personal friends with the parish priest, am on the finance council, am a Eucharistic minister, and am generally involved in parish life. In short; I may be a tad biased toward St. Mary’s.

The St. Mary’s Cemetery maintenance folks were having a hard time maintaining the place and asked that the cemetery’s policy be enforced. The policy regards what can be placed at grave sties, what cannot, and for how long.

The cemetery ran an ad in the local paper and had notices put into the bulletins of every Catholic church in town and then removed everything from the head stones that weren’t in compliance with the policy.

One person who disagreed with the enforcement of the policy contacted local news outlets and KXMB came on out and did several interviews. The videos aired on their news program are here and here. Go ahead and watch it; then come back…

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Notice anything odd about the video? I counted three distinct interviews; all of which were very negative about the policy. What representation did the cemetery representatives receive for their side of the issue? Well, the anchor did call out the pastor by name for making the decision and quoted a representative as saying the decorations looked “junky”.

Really? That’s it? An entire news story including three interviews and not one thing said to give the opposing side of the story? That doesn’t strike me as very balanced (see disclaimer above). If it’s the cemetery’s responsibility to maintain the grounds so it’s a peaceful environment for everyone, the policy has been on the books for a long time, and due notice was given, why wasn’t the cemetery given a chance to defend its actions?

So I called the KXMB newsroom (701-214-6951).

The newsroom person I spoke with said “frankly we were shocked to hear about it”.

I replied, “you’re journalists; being shocked doesn’t mean you can report half the story.” (I don't think that helped promote constructive communication; please be more civil than I was if you contact KXMB).

They told me that the cemetery representatives didn’t give any more information than what was presented; that the policy was enforced so the grounds could be maintained and because the displays were beginning to get excessive and look “tacky” (the representative who said "tacky" asked that the word not be used because it was an unfortunate slip of the tongue. KXMB graciously downgraded "tacky" to "junky").

Even so, watching the report is clear to me (again, see bias disclaimer above) that the reporter considers these reasons illegitimate. The tone and wording make it pretty obvious.

Contrast this with KFYR (another local station) that also covered the story. Their video is here. Now wasn’t that a simple explanation of the situation? No one was painted as insensitive and the relevant facts were given out. Isn’t that the purpose of a news story?

If you have any concerns regarding KXMB’s coverage, please contact them at 701-214-6951 and press 1 for the newsroom.

If you think I'm making a big deal about nothing go ahead and comment to that effect on this post.

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