Dark side of journalism


Nowadays no one is surprised when they hear in the news live stream killing or the other tragic event. People want blood and television gives it to them. Human nature is constructed in a way that we are fascinated about this “dark side” of humanity.
It became a norm that media deliver materials full of violence. We used to believe that footage would tell us something more profound about the story than we can imagine.
In terminology it can be named as “show culture”. Being journalist requires accepting this fact but sometimes it turns over that journalists are in the middle of tragic show.

Christine Chubbuck, USA

Once there was a young journalist in USA who showed on air something that changed perception of TV journalism. It was Christine Chubbuck, American journalist who on 15th July 1974 shot herself live on air. Chubbuck, 29 years old television presenter worked in Channel TV for couple of years. She was ambitious woman mainly working on social topics. Before the tragic event she asked her boss to prepare TV material on suicides among young people. During research she talked with local sheriff about the most effective way to commit suicide. After that she bought the gun. On 15th July as usually she was presenting news. Shortly before program she changed the running order of the news and everyone agreed on that. Then she said words that still might give a chill. “In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts and in living colour,” she said, “you are going to see another first: an attempted suicide.”, after this words she pulled the trigger. At the beginning everyone thought that’s joke, the viewers started to call the TV station. Chubbuck planned this event in a very detailed manner, she wrote even news story that her co-workers found on the desk with the description of what they are supposed to say. Other things that also pushed her to this tragic action was a long lasting depression with which she was fighting for many years. Her co-workers had no idea about this problem. A few days before her death, Chubbuck told her boss that she might kill herself on air but he took it as a joke.
Her suicide was watched by thousands of people who were in shocked and thought it wass fake. The tape record was never published on a request of family but internet is still full of fake footages. The story was forgotten till two movies premiered on the Sundance Film Festival: “Christine” and “Katy plays Christine”.



It was typical working day, 26th August 2015. Journalist Alison Parker (24 years old) together with cameraman Adam Ward (27 years old) went in the morning to make an interview with executive director of complex on the lakeshore. When they were already live on air, in the less expected moment, some stranger started shooting to them. Attacker killed both journalists and wounded the local official. All this happened in front of eyes of TV staff and thousands of viewers. The killer – Vester Lee Flanagan II was identified as fired television reporter and former colleague of Parker and Ward. Shortly after the attack he used social media as tool to show his “work” and ensured that information about this tragic event disseminated. He wrote about the shooting on Twitter, uploaded video on Facebook and sent his manifesto to ABC News, explaining motives of his act (discrimination, racism and sexual harassment at work). On the same day, Flanagan committed suicide.

Afterwards, a debate started in American media if they should show video from this tragic event or not. In general it seems that showing air killings is a situation without any proper solution.



In this case there’s no live shooting on air but another personal, sad story of Indian journalist – Supreet Kaur, TV news presenter for India’s IBC24. She was reading breaking news about car accident where 3 people died. On the phone another reporter was giving details about victims, types of cars and whole crash. Journalist realized that her husband was one of the victims (the same model of car, amount of people travelling, the road that he was supposed to travel). Kaur keeped calm and continued reading other headlines for over 10 minutes. After TV lights went out she started to cry and drove to the place of accident. Journalist showed high-level of professionalism and deserves a huge respect.

Being journalist is not an easy thing. There are plenty of stories when they have to cover horrible news. What’s more, social media now became a tool where everything can be shown. If it is not shown in TV, surely you would find this in the internet. Television became a place where you can expect live stream from plenty of tragic events. Already there are many examples like attack on WTC or tsunami in Japan. It may contain some warnings before but anyway more people will continue watching. Controversial footages always have many views, people talk about it and want to watch it over and over again (views from You Tube videos from popular, tragic events can prove that). When the viewers get used to violence in TV News and Internet it’s the worst that can happen.
All I want is to remind that journalism can be a part of something good and share positive behaviors among societies. Already in 70s. the young journalist mentioned in the article paid attention to searching only for sensational news at the cost of social, important topics.
Imagine, it might be a good thing to find this balance when you switch on TV after long day.

Paulina Gołębiowska

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