As local television newscasts go, the story WMAR-2 News ran at the top of its 5 p.m. broadcast June 28 was solemn. With a toss from her co-anchor, Kelly Swoope read the names of the five people who were killed inside the Capital Gazette newspaper June 28, 2018.
“Annapolis honored those victims today in a special remembrance ceremony,” Swoope said glumly about journalists Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara and Wendi Winters, and sales assistant Rebecca Smith. The five were killed by a man who barged into the offices of the Annapolis newspaper with a pump-action shotgun and a demented mind.
The 1-minute, 12-second story was a fitting, if brief, observance of the five-year anniversary of the Capital Gazette massacre. But WMAR-2 News’ most enduring tribute to those fallen media workers happened off camera.
A day earlier, Kelly Groft, the station’s news and digital director, arrived to work to find a 1-minute, 20-second trailer for a documentary about the Capital Gazette killings on WMAR-2 News’ website. If the trailer is any indication, “Heroes of 888” (the name is a nod to the Gazette’s street address) is a chilling recounting of what happened in the newspaper’s office that day.
Using what appears to be video from the body cameras of police who rushed to the scene and footage from the building’s security cameras, the trailer captures the unfiltered terror of employees who can be seen scrambling to avoid being hit by a shotgun blast – and apparently one person who was unable to escape that fate.
“The video was removed from the site, and all our platforms, as soon as I came in this morning,” Groft wrote in an email to Kimi Yoshino, The Baltimore Banner’s editor-in-chief.
Groft made the right call.
WMAR’s website is an extension of its newscasts. It is just another way the ABC affiliate disseminates news and information to its audience. Everything the station posts on its website reflects its news judgment – and its ethical standards.
Journalists are – or should be – guided by a set of ethical values that prescribes our behavior in ways that place greater restraints on us than on the documentary filmmaker. This is not a criticism of the film producers but rather an acknowledgement of how their production values differ from news judgments.
Journalists should “balance the public’s need for information against [the] potential harm or discomfort” their work might produce, the Society of Professional Journalists says in its Code of Ethics. The documentary filmmaker is largely unfettered in the way they tell a story – and the images they use in their work. This is not to say there is something wrong with what they do. The point is, their work generally is held to a different standard.
Ironically, Groft’s decision to pull down the “Heroes of 888″ trailer is consistent with a call the station made nearly 40 years ago when another heinous act of violence dominated the Baltimore area’s news coverage.
In 1984, Marcellus Ward, a Baltimore City Police Department officer on loan to the Drug Enforcement Administration, was killed during an undercover assignment in West Baltimore. He was shot four times and killed by a drug dealer. The exchange that led to Ward’s death, including his dying utterances, was captured on the secret recording device Ward was wearing. But, in its coverage of this deadly event, WMAR told its viewers it would share only an edited version of the tape, which did not include Ward’s last words and dying sounds.
That was a good decision then – and Groft’s decision to remove the “Heroes of 888” trailer from her station’s website was a good call now.
DeWayne Wickham is the public editor for The Baltimore Banner.