Wednesday 21 July 2010

Death knocking: Sick or appreciated?

Chris Wheal's blog about being on the receiving end of death knocking by the media, following the death of his young nephew in an accident, has provoked very interesting comments.
I thought the posts by Chris Morley and Lawrence Shaw gave very insightful and contrasting views about death knocking.
Chris Morley posted:
"Dreadful news and I extend my condolences for what they are worth in these circumstances. I agree that your insight is valuable to our trade, seeing us as others do. I do have to disagree with some of the comments about death knocks however.
"I did them for many years as a district reporter and was fortunate enough to never have been subject to pressure of the newsdesk to go back if you were refused the story/pic.
"There was trust that you had done the best job and it was not worth the aggro of offending the grieving relatives. It was rare that I was turned away with and empty notebook and no pic.
"My experience was that very often families were appreciative that the local paper was showing respect in coming down personally.
"It was especially poorer families that actually welcomed me in on a death knock as it was a way of giving meaning to the grief and informing others of what had happened in a responsible and articulate way.
"The important thing is to give them the choice and if the answer is no, the door is closed and you walk away. I accept the pressures on some reporters, especially those working for agencies, may be different and where there is a scrum over the bigger stories but that is mainly about the manner in which contact is made and the number of times it is done."

Lawrence Shaw takes a strong line against death knocking. He posted: "Very sad story Chris, my condolences. I totally agree with your point about the death knock. It is a sick part of our trade that a death knock is seen as some kind of test for trainee and junior reporters to prove themselves.
"It is seen as a badge of honour to go and intrude on a families grief, with warm congratulations given to any journalist who comes back to the office with good quotes and a picture. Failure was not an option for my old news editors – if you didn’t get anything, you were sent back until you did – or risked a shouting down for not being “good enough” at your job.
"It is the inherently macho and bullying culture in the media that gives rise to this in my opinion. It is a mark of shame on our trade and the industry in general and it wouldn’t take much in the way of sensible co-operative working agreements around sensitive stories like this to ensure that packs of journalists don’t hound people in the depths of mourning and desperation."

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