Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Breivik's chilling testimony sparks an interesting discussion of journalim's duties

Years ago while covering a fire in southern Illinois I had a father come up to me crying, showing his blistered hands, and wanted to tell me the details of how he could hear his three children trying to get out of their blazing house and crying "Daddy, Daddy."

They died, and I remember every moment of that "interview" to this day. I also think about that night and his emotional story and question what was my duty: to tell his story, which he wanted, or not.

These memories of self-doubt are stirred by an interesting discussion in the Sidney Morning Herald of the merits of media censoring hateful testimony of Anders Bering Breivik in which he is dramatically describing how he shot his 77 victims last summer in Norway. It's the kind of question that editors wrestle with all the time. The paper reaches out to a variety of people for their views, including an attorney, a psychiatrist, and a woman whose father was one of Breivik's victims.

The rational discussion of journalism's duties shows once again that journalists have a great responsibility in deciding what to publish -- and the answers, like those I faced outside the burning house, aren't easy.

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