7. The decision point

CBC British Columbia’s editorial staff were faced with a decision: a teenager had been killed and a portion of the attack was caught in a six-second video clip that was already making the rounds on social media. Once the newsroom had received the video by email from a former intern,  Burgess was faced with the question of whether or not to air the video of the stabbing.

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Various actors—Abbotsford police, the school board—had asked the video not to be shown. “This video is a trigger to trauma, not only for our students and our community but for any person that has been involved in a traumatic incident,” said Abbotsford school district superintendent Kevin Godden. “Out of respect for the families, I ask that you immediately cease circulation of the viral video that was filmed during this violent incident yesterday.” But does news value—and the importance of being upfront about the events that took place—trump these concerns?

Concerns aside, Bulgutch explains that there were good reasons to run the video.

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But Bulgutch also acknowledges that the visual value of the footage is not the only concern: “I think a person has a right to die in peace. I don’t think her death had a bigger meaning,” he says.

When graphic content is being sourced from social media, editorial teams’ decision-making processes are truncated. The pressure to be fast and first is amplified. Burgess acknowledges the changes that have come with a “digital first” focus in newsrooms.

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Bulgutch says there’s always a lot of debate and conversations around making these hard decisions, and in the end, there’s no guarantee that everyone will be in agreement.

“I don’t think any newsroom should be a democracy, where you vote on what the right answer is,” Bulgutch says. “It doesn’t work that way. I think somebody in the end has to take the responsibility and make a decision.”

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For Burgess it came down to relying on her own personal compass in making this decision: “My kind of philosophy personally has been what am I giving up and what little piece of my journalistic soul am I selling to do this thing and is it worth the pay off in the end?”

Next: 8. Epilogue