Killing the Death Knock

Aaaah death knocks, journalists can’t live with them, editors can’t live without them.

A recent death knock with a Channel 7 journalist has once again cast a light on their ethics, or lack thereof. It began with the story of a young teenager dying in a quad bike accident on the family property. The journalist’s and proceeding helicopter intruding on the family’s property saw the mother unleash her anger on their Facebook page.

It is damming and uncomfortable, and with an estimated 32,000 ‘likes’ it seems viewers were pretty appalled too.

As one journalist (who remains anonymous) noted, “there is no accepted industry-wide standard about how to handle these things.” When this is the case it is the norm for boundaries to be pushed and those who want to be ethical to be shunned.

They go on to write; “A lack of clear guidelines benefits the dodgy and the desperately ambitious in our profession.”

Whoever this journalist is, they are doing themselves a disservice by not knowing that we do have ethics around this. In fact it is number 11 in our list of codes;

11.  Respect private grief and personal privacy.  Journalists have the right to resist compulsion to intrude.

Jessica Rowe wrote about the discomfort and stress death knocks created for her as a young journalist. And credit to her she came clean on how she often dodged it. Yet her article left me wondering, if journalists hate them so much, why do they do it?

Because they can? Perhaps. Because they have to? More likely.

Mike Seccombe from The Global Mail writes about the underhandedness and discomfort of the death knock. His piece triggered quite a few responses from journalists who had lived it, hated it yet they still did it.

Sure we’re in the business of telling stories and human tragedy is one of them. But do we always need to put those in shock, grief and clear pain at the centre of it?

Perhaps I see it differently because I came to journalism from producing film and television. I talk about smoke and mirrors, how you can tell stories with minimal vision or photographs.

When I see death knocks, I see a lack of storytelling. It is what you write, how you tell that story. You can still create the tragedy and pain without blatantly showing it. Let’s give our audiences credit for their own life experiences and ability to empathise with those feeling loss.

If there is any silver lining here, it is this story may test new privacy laws.

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