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WBBM 'Learned From Mistakes' Involving Little Boy at Crime Scene

Al Tompkins of Poynter Institute has weighed in on the story involving WBBM Chicago and its report on a drive-by shooting that injured two teens, during which a station photog interviewed a 4-year-old boy.

WBBM, according to Tompkins, came up short twice in the ethical department–first by interviewing a child at a crime scene, and second by taking the boy’s statement out of context.

The boy at the scene of the South Side shooting told the reporter he wasn’t scared, as he hoped to carry a guy when he got big.

“Gonna have ME a gun,” the boy said.

In that context, it’s a chilling statement about kids and the never-ending cycle of violence–a slam dunk for a newscast. Anchor Steve Bartelstein called it a “disturbing reaction” from the tot.

But what WBBM left out was that the boy said he hoped to be a police officer, and presumably make the streets safer.

WBBM, owned by CBS, aired the story last month, but the ethical debate picked up when Maynard Institute For Journalism Education ran something on it.

Here’s WBBM’s statement on the issue:

We accept responsibility for the mistakes that were made, both in the reporting and editing of the story. The video of the child should not have aired. As soon as news management identified the problem, they took immediate steps to ensure that the video would not air in subsequent newscasts. In addition, we have followed up with our employees to make sure that that we all have learned from the mistakes that were made.

Poynter takes the opportunity to publish some valuable journalistic guidelines. Tompkins writes:

Journalists should exercise special care when interviewing juveniles. Especially in breaking news situations, juveniles may not be able to recognize the ramifications to themselves or to others of what they say. Journalists should be especially careful in interviewing juveniles live, because such live coverage is more difficult to control and edit. Juveniles should be given greater privacy protection than adults.

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.