Murder as entertainment


As I was marking papers the other day, this text  came in from Loop News, imploring me to WATCH a murder take place. Ironically, I was marking exam papers for a Media Ethics and Legal Issues class. In this class, we explored these topics, of course. Unfortunately, I don’t think local editors do any such thinking about these topics.

News is entertainment. Murdered sons, brothers, fathers, sisters, mothers are reduced to a text, an urge to entertain oneself.

Let’s think this through.

Imagine you are the family of the person who was murdered and you receive this text. You know that probably hundreds of thousands of other Jamaicas are also receiving the text. They click on the link and get to watch your family member’s life extinguished. How painful that must be. Your family member’s death as entertainment, a brief moment of distraction for a person, who then goes about their day. Maybe they spent a moment or two horrified, maybe they showed it to co-workers. But you are left with your grief, compounded by the subtraction of dignity for your family member.

Let’s also think through the editor’s decision to show this piece of footage. What purpose does it serve? What does it add to the public interest? How does it further democracy? Perhaps these questions are simply too weighty in an age when editors are struggling to drive page views, retain what few advertisers they have, and meet quarterly results. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt- maybe they are trying to help the police to find the murderer. The full storydoes this, but let’s be real- Jamaica’s “informa fi dead” culture makes this extremely unlikely. The video is also not clear and is not that helpful in identifying the alleged assailant.

JA on 60 Minutes

CBS’ 60 Minutes featured members of Jamaica’s LGTBQI community last night in the context of the Rainbow Railroad. This organization helps persecuted and endangered people flee their country. The story interviewed some Jamaicans who live in fear and want to migrate. The story was as well done as could be, as television journalism can be limiting. I think some people might say it presented the same old portrait of Jamaica as a homophobic hell. Of course, this is true for many in this community. It can be deadly, in fact. However, there has been a lot of progress. Attitudes are changing. P

What is verification, anyway?

On Saturday, we learned that police accosted two children, aged four and eight, at their home because they were home-schooled. They were taken to the police station, shorn of their dreadlocks and fed chicken.

Or so the Jamaica Gleaner says. Apparently we are to believe one unverified account. Later on Saturday, the police denied the whole thing, instead blaming a family member.

This story should not have gotten out the door. It was one account, unverified, as I said. It is a confusing, convoluted tale, that if true, is horrific and demands further attention. It should have not been published and investigated further. As it is now, it is ripe for a libel lawsuit. I guess the Gleaner does not have lawyers read their copy anymore. I saw lots of comments on social media that the Gleaner has no credibility anymore, and it should not. These are simple mistakes to avoid. Take some more time, get some more accounts, get an official reaction from the police.

As I teach my students, verification is a skill specific to a trained journalist. It is something learned. It is essential in presenting information. But I find a lot of the Gleaner’s stories are simply one person being quoted throughout, without any sort of journalistic structure.

It is very sad. The Gleaner is an old, old newspaper. It has a reputation that is being frittered away with carelessness. At least that is what I ascribe it to. It cannot be to get that scoop out there, because that sense of competition denotes pride in your work, and I don’t see any pride in the product the Gleaner is putting out.