Opinion: BuzzFeed lacks good judgment

Ryan Sampson

Ryan Sampson

Ryan Sampson is a senior architecture major

and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater.

Contact her at [email protected].

Last Friday afternoon, Fox News accidentally aired live coverage of a man committing suicide after he was pursued in a police car chase. Now, with the media’s seemingly ever-present need to desensitize the public regarding things of a grotesque or sensitive nature, this didn’t come as an immediate shock.

Fox News anchor Shepard Smith, apologized profusely, but there was no instant realization that this was, in fact, bad. It wasn’t until I read that another source, BuzzFeed, had taken the footage and re-aired it that I became uneasy with the idea of a man ending his life in front of millions of viewers.

The use of the footage seems tasteless, and the explanation offered by BuzzFeed did not put me at ease. The press manager, Ashley McCollum, gave this statement to Slate Magazine’s Will Oremus: “Making an editorial decision on how to cover a sensitive, tragic news event like this is never an easy one. But it is, indeed, a news event and we are a news organization. We posted both an edited version and the full version and we respect our readers’ judgment.”

My question is, what part does morality and privacy play in journalism anymore?

McCollum defended the decision to re-air Fox News’ blunder because the footage is considered news coverage, but how necessary is it that the public be privy to a very intimate decision made by a desperate man in his last moments? Where does the press draw the line between keeping people informed and cheap entertainment?

Sept. 11 has become a heartbreaking chapter in America’s history; it is a day that has impacted the lives of millions of people, and forever changed our country. The news coverage, though sometimes graphic, was vast and necessary; there was an overwhelming feeling of austerity and respect from the journalism community in regards to the happenings of that day. That was worthy of national news.

This, on the other hand, appears to be less about informing the public, and more about capitalizing on a man’s tragic death by providing the public with a choice between two links, one of which could be used to satisfy an individual’s morbid curiosity.

I have not watched the video, but I was tempted to; not because I enjoy death or others causing themselves harm — I watch scary movies through my fingers — but because I was curious. I wanted to know what about this occurrence was so monumental that BuzzFeed felt it necessary to share and reiterate Fox’s poor timing.

Oremus put it well when he said BuzzFeed “ensured that the footage… would reach orders of magnitude more people than it would have otherwise.” They did not just notify the public, they force-fed them, providing access to the video through every possible outlet.

While it is a person’s right to choose between two alternatives when offered the choice, to an extent, the good left in humanity needs to be protected. Ideally, journalism should be unbiased and without a sugar coating, but would you give a recovering alcoholic a choice between gin and vodka?