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Where KSDK went wrong

Where KSDK went wrong

Trevor Currie

Kirkwood High School has had two lockdowns this year, one resulting from a light bulb incident and another by a ksdk reporter

For information about the events discussed in this article, see “KHS goes on lockdown.”

Introduction

I have a shocking confession. I kind of agreed with Kanye West when he said Beyoncé deserved the Best Female Video award at the 2009 MTV Music Video Awards. Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” was good, but not nearly on the same level as the iconic “Single Ladies” music video. Even though I agreed with what he was trying to get across, he ruined any chance I would side with him when he stole the microphone from Taylor Swift before she accepted her award and said she did not deserve it. “Imma let you finish, but…”

As I watched the beginning of KSDK NewsChannel 5’s 10 p.m. broadcast Thursday, I felt like I was rewatching the Kanye-Swift catastrophe. “We have heard you [Kirkwood community members], and we are sorry,” the reporter said, before an extended clip demonstrating everything wrong with KHS’s security. KSDK’s sorry if you’re offended, but here’s evidence that they are right and you are wrong. “Imma let you finish, but…”

Sure, I agree with them. In some aspects, KHS’s security isn’t effective. People could have died. But I’m reluctant to agree with KSDK. I’m reluctant to agree with someone who delivered their message in such a rude, intrusive and unprofessional manner.

The problem with undercover reporting

“Where did we go wrong?” KSDK must be asking themselves. Doesn’t the Kirkwood community understand the importance of the message? Don’t they understand we’re trying to save lives? We’re just doing our jobs.

And from their perspective, they certainly were, but from an outside perspective, it’s clear that they were only interested in making the story more intriguing. According to the Society for Professional Journalist’s (SPJ) Code of Ethics, journalists should “avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story.”

KSDK could have easily avoided undercover methods. They just used the footage of the reporter walking into the school with a hidden camera. He could have walked to the office and identified himself as a reporter, avoiding the ensuing lockdown, and still acquired the crucial footage that showed KHS’s security isn’t up to scratch. The result of KSDK’s choice to use undercover methods exemplifies why those methods are discouraged in the SPJ’s code.

A charged climate equals charged emotions

According to CNN, there were 25 school shootings in 2013. The Daily Beast reports that over the course of the year after 20 first graders were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, school shootings took place in the U.S. every two weeks on average. Just three days ago, a widely-covered school shooting occurred in Roswell, New Mexico. In today’s charged atmosphere surrounding school shootings, and the greater likelihood that one will occur, the result of KSDK’s decision to go undercover- the lockdown- triggered even more panic and fear than it may have several years ago.

Although I personally wasn’t rattled by the lockdown, my mom was. She texted me soon after the event, asking if everything was alright, rattled by the mandatory call to parents by the school during a lockdown.The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Stacey Woodruff, KHS parent, said she wept when she received the call, and talked to her daughter over her cell phone throughout the lockdown. Caroline Goff, freshman, told the Post-Dispatch that students in her class “were scared that something was going to happen to [them], like at Sandy Hook.” KSDK’s apology failed to address the emotional impact such a terrifying experience can have on a community. I only hope they addressed as a staff the potentially devastating effects of undercover reporting.

Blurry lines

Journalists face a blurry line between great reporting and inappropriate conduct. What’s OK and what isn’t OK? The simulation was OK. Walking into the building was OK. Asking to interview a security officer was OK. Seeing if someone would guide a visitor to the building to a bathroom was OK. Pretending to go to the bathroom and wandering around the school instead was not OK.

When the main office called the cell phone number the man gave them and realized through his voicemail that he was a reporter, they tried to contact KSDK to verify his identity. KSDK didn’t answer their calls. That was not OK. When KSDK blamed KHS for taking an hour to start a lockdown because they were trying to call KSDK headquarters to verify the reporter’s identity and avoid the panic of a false alarm, that was not OK. When KSDK did not emphasize the reasons it took an hour to start a lockdown and only reported that it took an hour to start the lockdown, that was definitely not OK. But leaving out crucial information was a theme of KSDK’s broadcast.

An absent perspective
As KSDK smudged KHS’s reputation, they did not think to include KHS’s admirable recent response to a potentially dangerous intruder in the building. They did not think to add that KHS has attempted to implement an updated security plan this year. They did not think to mention that walking counselors guard most entrances and walk the hallways, specifically watching for intruders. KSDK chose to withhold information that pertained to the story to try not to look bad, and it only made them look worse. They tried to enhance the important angle they had– that KHS’s security needs work– by leaving out what KHS’s security is doing right, and it only deafened the ears of the people who need to hear the message most.

I have never, not once during my four years at KHS, felt unsafe. Based on the explosion on my Twitter feed after the KSDK broadcast, a great deal of KHS students agree. The fact that KSDK chose to omit this perspective entirely, to not even interview students about how safe they felt at KHS, is why so many people are so angry. They are angry, irritated and resentful because they know KSDK didn’t tell the whole story. They know about the walking counselors, the new security measures this year and the amazing recent KHS response to an intruder false alarm. Kirkwood lost all respect for the messenger, and KSDK’s goal– to communicate a crucial message– was lost as well. The other side of the issue was not represented, and the horrible result just demonstrates why covering every side of an issue has been pounded into my head since I took Journalism I as a freshman.

So yes, in the end, I find it as hard to agree with KSDK as it was for me to agree with Kanye West’s rude interruption at the 2009 MTV Music Awards. Maybe next time KSDK decides to cover something this important, they’ll ensure the people the story impacts the most aren’t too offended to listen.

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22 Comments

22 Responses to “Where KSDK went wrong”

  1. David Souza on January 17th, 2014 1:29 pm

    I have worked in the media (Not KSDK) and my daughter is a Sophmore at KHS, And I completely agree with your article. The point of the news is to report it not make it up, and as a great reporter I worked with in Rhode Island once said. Be first, Be fair and be Accurate… Nice! Great Job Ian, It is sad that a student has more common sense than the people who are supposed to be “pros”

  2. Anon on January 17th, 2014 4:25 pm

    I am sorry but I feel that KHS is also at fault, you really thing that Havener really told the truth? KSDK found the mistakes that KHS made and just because kirkwood got caught they are upset and you say he should have just identified himself as a reporter? I could go in there and do the same but that doesn’t mean I am one, his voice mail said he was a reporter yet you wanted to confirm it so why does it make a difference if it’s in person? I honestly don’t believe that anybody walked him to the bathroom, or showed him around, I believe KHS is saying that just so they don’t seem at fault, yes KSDK did push it a bit but hey how about KHS keep their students in line and not tweet threats to KSDK? How about handling it like adults rather then being childish. So in my point of view both sides are at fault and both need to stop covering up their stories. I would leave my name but I went to kirkwood and one thing I learned is people will judge you just because you have your own opinion, so there’s no point putting my name down when I will just be attacked because of what I believe truly happened.

  3. Lisa Ebert on January 17th, 2014 4:35 pm

    Nice, level-headed article. You were kinder to KSDK than others might have been. Well-done. I hope this incident becomes a permanent part of the KHS journalism curriculum. You might even help KSDK with their business, as they endeavored to do in helping you with school security. I had a lovely time correcting the grammatical errors on their website today (there are many); no doubt you students can benefit in the same way, sharpening your red editorial pencil skills. In the end, we all just want the safety of our children, and this includes safety in seeing correct representations of the English language.

  4. Sean Conroy on January 17th, 2014 7:21 pm

    Mizzou’s esteemed J-School would be better off with this writer inside it’s classrooms. The bottom line which was very eloquently pointed out here is that KSDK should have answered the phone to confirm that this was a “drill”. This had all the possibilities to be a poignant example of a security flaw but by not answering the phone and confirming the intentions this was a poor reflection on what could have been a shining example of Journalism. From a former reporter to a future one…well done Ian.

  5. Gretchen Moser on January 17th, 2014 7:55 pm

    What a fantastic article! I couldn’t agree more. Please continue to pursue journalism. We need REAL journalists like you who cover stories the way they are supposed to be covered. Be sure and send your resume to KSDK.

  6. Tamara on January 17th, 2014 8:09 pm

    Perfectly said. They should hire you. You’re already more credible.

  7. Cathy on January 17th, 2014 8:29 pm

    Very well said. However one other crucial fact KSDK failed to mention, is that they went to 5 schools and 4 of them were ELEMENTARY schools. Only one was a multi-building high school campus!! Why didnt they go to any of the Kirkwood elementary schools??? Maybe because they’d already been to 4 others & were quickly stopped?? I can definitely see how that wouldnt make a very good story…

  8. Michael Griffin on January 17th, 2014 9:39 pm

    A well-written commentary from my former paper, the nationally recognized, award-winning high school newspaper, The Kirkwood Call (Class of 1991). Ian Madden did a nice job in evaluating the poorly executed attempt by KSDK to play investigative reporter.

    As Madden effectively points out, KSDK made a major, professional error in judgment when their videographer didn’t notify school staff that he was a reporter. It wouldn’t have lessened the impact of the already-gathered footage or it’s play out on the evening news. Instead, the actions of that “reporter” led to a lockdown and multiple law enforcement agencies responding to a campus in crisis. Furthermore, parents and children were frightened beyond belief and a school day was disrupted.

    It’s clear that the Kirkwood School District needs to make some serious improvements to its security efforts. Of course KSDK will try and argue this change was the result of their effective news reporting. Actually, they could have had the same outcome without shutting down the school and disrupting an entire community.

    In the coming days there will need to be a followup on two fronts, and I hope The Kirkwood Call can lead the effort: 1) what actions are district officials taking to improve security and safeguard our children, and 2) what criminal charges will KSDK’s “reporter” face for peace disturbance?

    Criminal trespass will be hard to prosecute; peace disturbance shouldn’t be that difficult. The Kirkwood Police, specifically their Chief Plummer, should deliver on their public announcement of seeking criminal charges of some type in this matter. St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch, also a Kirkwood resident, should proceed with prosecution and not let this fall off the radar screen, get mired in the backlog of the warrant office, or be delegated to the municipal court.

    The actions of KSDK were less than professional. How we as a community respond to this incident will define our strengths as a school district and community.

  9. Linda W on January 18th, 2014 8:17 am

    They also failed to mention that the other four schools they went to were single building schools, that have all their doors locked instead of one in which they must buzz in to gain entrance, while KHS is a forty acre campus comprised of many buildings. Cheap shot KSDK.

  10. Mark Lockhart on January 18th, 2014 8:30 am

    Well said Ian – as a KHS graduate (’81), I was extremely upset to learn of the KSDK incident this week. Was there a point to be made? Absolutely. Was there a better way to do it? Damn right. KSDK was irresponsible and negligent in their method of reporting. Whether it was an error in judgement or just plain stupidity – they created the news, they didn’t report it.

    Keep up the good work – Go Pioneers!

  11. Ann on January 18th, 2014 9:33 am

    I’m not so sure there is anything wrong with school security; it’s a SCHOOL, not a maximum security prison.

  12. Sue Haugen on January 18th, 2014 9:36 am

    Very well written article. Excellent reporting!

  13. David Luther on January 18th, 2014 10:30 am

    Great piece and dead-on. “Gotcha” journalism got what it deserved — a black eye. Is KHS without fault? Not entirely, but as Ian makes clear, the intent of KSDK’s message was overshadowed by the outrage felt by the Kirkwood community. A couple of other issues to take with KSDK: they created a potentially dangerous situation, and from an education point of view, they cost the district hunders of hours in lost instructional time. (Oh, guess what? It’s “Sweeps.” But I’m sure that played no role in the decision to do the story in such a manner.)

  14. Dasia Johnson on January 18th, 2014 11:06 am

    As a recent KHS graduate (’13), I can proudly and HONESTLY say that I have never felt unsafe in the halls of Kirkwood. I attended the KSD from pre-k until I graduated in 2013 and I can’t recall a time when we experienced tragedy, panic, or harm due to inadequate security. Sending a community into panic to “expose” security flaws is an extremely poor professional decision. Kirkwood High School security is not so severely flawed that KSDK should WASTE time out of their day to “expose” them. Not to mention that this isn’t an elementary, it’s a multi-building high school. These are young adults who are capable of conducting themselves in a good manner in the time of emergency. KHS has actually TRIED locking more of their doors, but had to unlock them to due to the inconvenience for students trying to get to class in the allotted 6 minutes.

    So hey, I may be only be a first year kinesiology major, but even I know a little something-something about the ethics of journalism from a course I took my FRESHMAN YEAR OF HIGH SCHOOL. Maybe instead of attempting to invade our school, KSDK and its reporters should take several seats in the front of row of our BASIC broadcast journalism course.

  15. Dave W on January 18th, 2014 1:52 pm

    Excellent job, Ian! KSDK (among other news sources) forget that their job is to report the news, not create it. They clearly went out of their way to create an incident worth reporting. They should be ashamed for going beyond what was necessary to expose any safety issue. I for one will avoid KSDK going forward, and I assume I am not alone in that sentiment. Keep up the good work Ian and best of luck in your future endeavors.

  16. Kathleen on January 18th, 2014 2:27 pm

    Wow! Spot on! Excellent article….content and technique! I hope you mail KSDK a copy because they apparently don’t get it! Good luck in your future writing career, I’d say you are well on your way!

  17. Julie Wolpers on January 18th, 2014 3:51 pm

    Clearly Kirkwood High School is still one of the best places to learn journalism. Very well written response to an irresponsible lapse in judgment by professionals who should know better. Keep up the good work!

  18. Sharon Taysi on January 19th, 2014 12:59 pm

    Great job, Ian! Well written and professionally done, which is much more than I could say about how KSDK handled the story. We can always be safer. However, a news reporting agency should be REPORTING the news, not CREATING the news.

  19. Doug Riggs on January 20th, 2014 9:57 am

    The fact is, each student at KHS is 6 months to 3.5 years away from going out into the world as an adult. Is there a security guard at every college campus classroom building door? Do we really want a high school that feels like a prison? I hope our district doesn’t overreact to the misguided, ill-conceived, potentially illegal, definitely unethical actions of Channel 5′s news team who last night finally came clean and fully admitted that they messed up.

  20. Tripp Frohlichstein on January 20th, 2014 11:01 am

    Very well done piece, Ian.

  21. Barbara Wiseheart on January 21st, 2014 2:51 pm

    Great job Ian! On this article and on your KMOX interview!

  22. James Criquette on January 21st, 2014 3:40 pm

    i came across news of this matter, and then this op-ed after clicking on the first link (being from the Post-Dispatch) about the shooting at Purdue University. Near the article was a link about the KSDK brouhaha and having grown up in St. Louis (full disclosure, Horton Watkins class of 1971) I got intrigued. And then found mention of this op-ed. What was it that Voltaire said about common sense being so uncommon? It would appear that it is at least located in the head of young but wise Mr. Madden.

    There is one thing that always seems to be missing in all these frantic discussions about security, whether it be at a school, an airport, or at the NSA. And that is how impossible it is to provide it in any sense of a security that you could call complete, unless thoughts of being in a police state don’t trouble you from sleeping at night as they sometimes do me. (It must be from the Orwell I was allowed to read as a teenager by my liberal-minded parents and teachers.) The fact is that it is this incompleteness of security, the insecurity of security if you will, that causes us to have such anxiety, hand-wringing and tribunals that can come anywhere from angry parents, school boards or news organizations.

    I hope this doesn’t come across as glib or over-intellectualizing the matter. But the fact remains that our current lot is one of allowing some resemblance and remembrance of freedom in our daily lives vs what amounts to a chronic lockdown except that it’s called “security”.

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