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Last week, a staffer at St. Louis’ KSDK-TV decided it would be a dandy idea to test the security measures of some local high schools.His inquiry—and suspicious-looking behavior—at suburban Kirkwood High School caused administrators to lockdown the school for more than 40 minutes.

KSDK likes to call itself “NewsChannel 5.” Its slogan, in recent years, has been “Where the News Comes First.”

In this instance, the news clearly did come first—but not in a good way.

More after the security croissant...

KSDK's  news department’s eagerness for a scoop really did come before everything else—including common sense, journalistic ethics, and the emotional well-being of the locked-down students and their panicked parents. Did anyone at Channel 5 even consider that there could be consequences?

In a world that has almost completely disappeared, to be a journalist meant to observe and to report the news, not be the news. I guess the crew at St. Louis’ KSDK-TV was absent when that subject was discussed in whatever passes for journalism at some schools these days.

There were probably several other ways to get this story without scaring the hell out of an entire school community. You could, for example, simply pick up the phone, call the school, and tell them what you’re working on—maybe even get them to agree, in advance, to a secret-shopper gambit. You could interview people—kids, teachers, administrators, the school cop. But, of course, those conventional strategies would require actually interacting with people, perhaps even taking notes and checking facts—things that you can’t do via text messaging—things that aren’t nearly as fun, easy, and sensational as an ambush.

The result of NewsChannel 5’s poorly-thought-out sneak attack was not a news story that informed us about the various states of school security in an era of gun-crazy school shootings: The story became what the reporter did and its effect on students, staff and parents.

By the way, if the reporter intended to say that Kirkwood High School’s security was lacking, he got that wrong, too. Yes, there was no lock on the school door, no buzz-in system to keep out unwanted visitors. But his own behavior—walking in unannounced, asking to speak to the school security administrator, disappearing, and then not responding to cell phone calls to confirm his status as a reporter—set in motion a security response—the lockdown–that  seemed completely appropriate, even if it is an unfortunate, extreme by-product of the times.

Notice, too, that I have not used the name of the reporter. Although we learned his name a few days later, NewsChannel 5 did not initially identify him. So, while news outlets are usually very quick with names of alleged criminals, terrorists and victims, KSDK went all private when its own employee was at the center of the story.

I don’t have a problem with enterprising reporters who get out from behind their desks to nail down a legitimate story through solid interviews, no-nonsense questions, and serious study of primary documents.  In fact, we should welcome that kind of news gathering, because it is the—rare—exact opposite of what we often get: newsreaders essentially, blindly repeating press releases and talking points issued by politicians, police, political parties, and entertainment sources.

KSDK has publicly apologized for the screw-up. It’s  not the first, and it won’t be the last, news outlet to use poor judgment, let an overzealous reporter go too far, get sloppy, or create news where it otherwise might not have occurred. This is simply another example of the continuing degradation of news values in a corporate-driven, profits-first , news-as-entertainment environment.

It’s been said that Mt. Everest makes its own weather. We can’t control that. But it’s simply not okay for news outlets to create–and be–their own news.

Originally posted to Lefty on Tue Jan 21, 2014 at 04:23 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Is this budding Walter Windshield... (11+ / 0-)

    ...still employed by the station?

    Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

    by JeffW on Tue Jan 21, 2014 at 04:27:53 PM PST

    •  Good question. (20+ / 0-)

      I've not heard anything about heads rolling at KSDK. Watching the actual news report, it appears that they sent out a "staffer," i.e., not a recognizable, on-screen "reporter" or newsreader. I actually blame the news director--who should have known better--more than the poor schmuck they sent out to do the dirty work.

      Life's a dance you learn as you go; sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow.

      by gloriasb on Tue Jan 21, 2014 at 04:30:17 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Staffer as in reporter or staffer (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Aunt Pat, TomP, Lujane, Calamity Jean

        as in a non-reporter? Or staffer as in staff intern? The last two could explain a lot. Someone's head still needs to roll but I'd like to think you can't be that dumb and get a job reporting at a major market's number 1 tv station.

        •  Seems to me it's even worse (0+ / 0-)

          for a TV station to keep a news director that approves such a mindless ploy for a news story.  Unless the "staffer" was sent out with specific instructions to contact the principal, the school's security staff and the teachers, and the staffer simply ignored the instructions, I would think the news director should be fearing for his job more than anyone else at the station.

          However, after hearing the death rattle, repeatedly, of the art of real journalism in this country over the past few decades it wouldn't surprise me at all if the news director and the station didn't win some kind of award for "investigative journalism" because of this story.

          "In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for; as for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican." - H. L. Mencken

          by SueDe on Wed Jan 22, 2014 at 06:38:05 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  LOL! Really? (0+ / 0-)

          Sorry. It isn't hard in today's newsworld of pretty things who neither write what they read or care about what they read. They are there to get famous and to get money. That is it.
          All the real journalists left long ago - and wouldn't be hired today if they came looking for a job.

          Isn’t it ironic to think that man might determine his own future by something so seemingly trivial as the choice of an insect spray. ~ Rachel Carson, Silent Spring ~

          by MA Liberal on Wed Jan 22, 2014 at 07:56:28 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  He just joined the team....at 60 Minutes. (4+ / 0-)

      Please know I am not rude. I cannot rec anything from this browser. When I rec or post diaries I am a guest at some exotic locale's computer. Ayn is the bane!

      by Floyd Blue on Wed Jan 22, 2014 at 11:57:40 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  They used to have grown ups called "editors" or (20+ / 0-)

    news directors.  Those heads should roll also.

  •  Pretty dumb. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aunt Pat, Matt Z, TomP

    But dumb is the new mundane.

    Thump! Bang. Whack-boing. It's dub!

    by dadadata on Tue Jan 21, 2014 at 05:11:12 PM PST

  •  Not sure which is most distressing, that a news (14+ / 0-)

    station would attempt a stunt like this or that our schools have to be so hyper vigilant that the visit would result in a lockdown.

    •  That's my thought too (7+ / 0-)

      I actually live in Kirkwood, not too far from the high school in question, and back in my day (which wasn't that long ago, 10 years....holy shit, it's been 10 years since I graduated high school? I feel old) this would've never been blown out of proportion like it has been.

      I guess I can't get worked up over this and don't see what the big deal is. The reporter probably could've handled it better, but I can't get outraged by it. Maybe if I had kids at Kirkwood High School, or just had kids to begin with I'd get it. But right now, I don't.

      This is also the same high school that went into lockdown back in December because a light bulb fell in a supply closet, and apparently the sound of it hitting the ground and breaking sounded like a gun shot. Safe than sorry I guess, but how long until a school goes into lockdown because a student farted and someone thought it was a machine gun?

      "How come when it’s us, it’s an abortion, and when it’s a chicken, it’s an omelette?" - George Carlin

      by yg17 on Tue Jan 21, 2014 at 05:42:52 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  St. Louis is some kind of command post (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Calamity Jean

    in the war on public education.  I don't know why, but there seems to be some kind of folie à plusieurs going on there.  Could it be  Sinquefield Satan?

    Light is seen through a small hole.

    by houyhnhnm on Tue Jan 21, 2014 at 06:55:29 PM PST

    •  depends on the district (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Calamity Jean, Bluefin

      I can't speak about privatization efforts, other than in St. Louis, many send kids to catholic schools.

      Our kids have been in Brookline, MA, Palo Alto, CA, Hilo, HI, and St. Louis County. Wherever we have been, the teachers and in-school staff have been great. The economic conditions of the area are important, as is highlighted in pieces here and elsewhere from the likes of Diane Ravitch.

      The resources are important not only for having materials for the teachers in class, but also for the entire upbringing of the kids. If the kids don't have lessons done, then the class starts losing out on recess and other activities, like music. The students get more discouraged, disruptive and bored, and it spirals from there. In economically depressed areas, too much of the burden and responsibility seems to fall on teachers.

      We are in the Parkway School District in St. Louis County. It is very good. So, St. Louis isn't all bad. However many area schools are "failing". One potential solution is to have a unified school district encompassing all of the county and city. This would even out $/student, but I would have to consider things like busing before deciding. I doubt if most in good school districts would consider it.

      Finally, an aside regarding folie à plusieurs, which I simplistically interpret as mass psychosis. When we moved to St. Louis, nice, yet misinformed and religious friends told us that schools here don't let children pray or say the pledge of allegiance. I suppose that it is part of the demonization of public schools. When I argued with them, they said I hadn't been here for a long time and don't know the area. So, I asked district administrators and the school principal if my kid could pray and say the pledge of allegiance. They were far more diplomatic than I would have been in replying that, of course, kids could have quiet time to pray or meditate, and that classes did say the pledge of allegiance, depending on the teacher and time. As for my friends, my theory is that they believe the BS that not mandating christianity = not allowing it.

  •  We are close enough to get... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aunt Pat, ladybug53, Matt Z, TomP


       ...the St. Louis TV stations. As I saw this foul up unfolding, I could only feel sorry for all concerned. What a mess!

    Compost for a greener planet.............got piles?

    by Hoghead99 on Tue Jan 21, 2014 at 07:49:21 PM PST

  •  If you hadn't been to Kirkwood High School, (13+ / 0-)

    you'd see that the sorts of security that consultants like isn't possible.  There is access to 2 major suburban roads, a sprawling campus that can't be fenced, neighborhood parking, 37 doors, and lots of glass.  Even if everything were locked and funneled how they wanted, the major amounts of ground level glass would be a major safety risk and could possibly wreak havoc with any lockdown scheme.

    If KSDK's criteria were employed the only answer would be to re-site the school and re-build from scratch.

    Not to mention that these criteria are useless against a school shooting event.  Kirkwood is going to spend real money on security because of this report.  I'm very upset with KSDK.

    I'll always be...King of Bain...I'll always be...King of Bain

    by AZphilosopher on Tue Jan 21, 2014 at 10:12:05 PM PST

  •  What's really sad about this ... (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    white blitz, Matt Z, TomP, sawgrass727, JGibson

    is that for years KSDK (an NBC affiliate) has been far and away the best (and highest-rated) local news station.

    KMOV (the CBS affiliate) news is essentially tabloid TV (incredibly sensationalistic) for St. Louis, but because CBS has been handily beating NBC in the ratings for years, KMOV now has the highest rated news in St. Louis, which they have been trumpeting loudly.

    I'm sure this happened because of the competitive pressure. What we don't want is KSDK to turn into another KMOV.

  •  Was it Sweeps Week? That's usually when TV (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Matt Z, TomP

    stations pull any stunt they can for ratings.

  •  Sounds like he has a future at Fox or Breibart.com (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    joanil, Matt Z, TomP, sawgrass727, JVolvo

    The only thing we have to fear is fear itself - FDR. Obama Nation. -6.13 -6.15

    by ecostar on Wed Jan 22, 2014 at 12:47:24 AM PST

  •  Excellent post. I agree. (0+ / 0-)

    Join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news and views written from a black pov—everyone is welcome.

    by TomP on Wed Jan 22, 2014 at 07:13:56 AM PST

  •  Why can't we get Jessie Watters to try this? (0+ / 0-)

    I'll donate the mask and fake firearm...(OK, poor taste) We could have him do it on a weekend when no students were in school but, after we had tipped of the fanatics at SWAT...

  •  Journalism school? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sawgrass727
    I guess the crew at St. Louis’ KSDK-TV was absent when that subject was discussed in whatever passes for journalism at some schools these days.
    Why do you assume that the "crew" at this station attended journalism school?  I worked in radio and TV news for more than 30 years and most of my colleagues never went to journalism school.  I have a Communication Arts degree, as do many people in TV news, but I advise kids NOT to major in "communications," but rather in journalism, English, political science, or economics.

    I worked for the Nader presidential campaign in 2000. I'm so sorry!

    by NYLefty on Wed Jan 22, 2014 at 09:23:32 AM PST

  •  The student response was great (4+ / 0-)

    A senior wrote a commentary about the event in the student newspaper.

    “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…”
    ...
    I’m reluctant to agree with someone who delivered their message in such a rude, intrusive and unprofessional manner.  [I]t’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."
    ...leaving out crucial information was a theme of KSDK’s broadcast.
    Nailed it.  

    And here's the knock-out punch.  

    [C]overing every side of an issue has been pounded into my head since I took Journalism I as a freshman [in high school].
    A teenager effectively lecturing "professionals" on how journalism should work.  On a larger scale, this is the same reaction we have to major news corps like CBS "60 Minutes" and its fiascos.  In both cases, people should be fired...but it just doesn't happen, and so it will continue.
  •  A small thing I noticed.... (0+ / 0-)

    In the description of KSDK as NewsChannel 5 'Where the news comes first, reminded me that our local Portland OR NBC affiliate has the same tagline ID. There are packages that are created that stations then buy.

    "You know Darlene, your doughnuts aren't totally glazed are they?"

    by Ozawa on Wed Jan 22, 2014 at 10:00:02 AM PST

  •  Local good guy columnist Bill McClellan (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gloriasb

    wrote about this the other day.  
    http://www.stltoday.com/...

  •  Neighboring school districts were also affected (0+ / 0-)

    This is from an email sent out by the superintendent of the Parkway School District.

    Dear Parents,

    Earlier today, KSDK Channel 5 reporters with hidden cameras unexpectedly arrived at a number of schools across the St. Louis area to test their security. This resulted in an intruder lockdown at one high school in another district.

    In Parkway, an unidentified man entered the office at Bellerive Elementary inquiring about our safety and security plans which appeared suspicious. Our staff was quickly able to determine that he was a reporter for Channel 5 and he immediately left the building.

    ...

    Thank you for your help and support in keeping our children safe.

    Sincerely,

    Keith Marty
    Superintendent

    The part I left out stated how this should be used as an opportunity to consider safety, and that safety of the children is their top priority.
  •  My brother is the morning anchor at KSDK (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    el dorado gal

    and hated the idea from the start. Couldn't stop it from happening.

    "I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member." --G. Marx

    by dhshoops on Wed Jan 22, 2014 at 01:23:34 PM PST

    •  So the "reporter" actually let people know (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW

      that he was going to do this, and nobody stopped him?  He didn't just sneak off and try it?  Sheesh, your brother must be the only mental adult on the whole staff.  

      "My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right." -- Sen Carl Schurz 1872

      by Calamity Jean on Wed Jan 22, 2014 at 03:27:54 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Ironically, a person saying they are a reporter (0+ / 0-)

    is one of the easiest ways to get in somewhere the person doesn't belong.

    People with hatred in their hearts never live up to their full potential. It's very sad.

    by Nelsons on Wed Jan 22, 2014 at 04:56:48 PM PST

  •  You assume, incorrectly... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Bluefin

    that anyone involved went to a good school, let alone possesses a journalism degree.

    I guess the crew at St. Louis’ KSDK-TV was absent when that subject was discussed in whatever passes for journalism at some schools these days.
    You see, in most stations across the nation, a journalism degree is not a prerequisite. Of course, it never has been, nor has it ever been necessary.

    Throughout most of the days of goo, REAL journalism, you learned on the job. You didn't start as an editor, or major reporter, etc. You learned the ropes, you did your time. then, and only then, if you were thought to be good at your work, you were given a few small assignments - you worked your way up.

    Today, they don't hire based on intelligence, savvy, or the desire to do good work. You are hired if you're pretty (male of female) and are willing to accept the crap pay they offer. Oh yea, you also have to agree to kowtow to your corporate owners. STray from their path and you're on a one way ticket out.

    My brother was one who grew up idolizing Murrow, Cronkite and the rest of the giants. In our home growing up we watched the news - both local and national newscasts (we could watch 2 out of 3 nightly national newscasts because of how they timed them) in addition to a steady diet of our local newspaper (Boston Globe) and lots of magazines of every stripe (Time and Newsweek, US News, National Geographic, Yankee, DownEast, Saturday Evening Post, etc.). We were "well read" in the truest sense.

    So bro wanted to o into news. He wanted to tell the stories. And for a time he did - he's a recipient of NINE Emmy awards for local excellence, an Edward R. Murrow award and an Iris.

    So where is he now? In a state out west that has a right wing corporate parent that forces him to reports what they want, how they want. It's killing him.

    Don't expect real journalism from your local news. Ain't gonna happen. Expect swill. Expect pretty boys and girls with few brains who will do anything to get famous. That's how it works now.

    Journalism? Seriously? You still think we have that?
    LOL!

    Isn’t it ironic to think that man might determine his own future by something so seemingly trivial as the choice of an insect spray. ~ Rachel Carson, Silent Spring ~

    by MA Liberal on Wed Jan 22, 2014 at 07:54:15 PM PST

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