The publication on Courant.com of a recording of Alice Morrin’s final moments alive reminded me that The Courant actually has standards editors can consult when making such decisions.
There is something called the News Policy — a document that, like the Constitition, is often interpreted and revised when it is not being totally ignored. It is supposed to advise editors (those who even know if it) on various matters, including, in this case, taste.
How often the news policy is consulted — or whether it is even consulted and interpreted to fit the Internet Age and Courant.com– is hard to know. In any event, here’s the closest it comes to addressing the Alice Morrin situation:
The Courant considers itself a family newspaper; that is, we believe that readers of all ages should expect that they can read the newspaper without encountering language or images they would find offensive.We recognize that some people may be offended by nearly anything, and we do not aspire to be bland. In fact, we aspire to be vibrant, lively and contemporary, but not at the expense of offending a large segment of our readers.
With that in mind, we should exercise restraint when reporting details that are gruesome or gory, except when their inclusion is essential to the reader’s understanding. In medical stories we should be clinically accurate, but avoid gratuitous references to body parts or functions.
Whenever we encounter questionable material, we should ask ourselves “What journalistic good is served by leaving this in? What does the reader lose by its omission?” This standard applies to all questions of taste. Reporters and editors who are uncertain about the propriety of such information are encouraged to ask a senior editor for guidance.
This policy is perhaps dated and unaware of how standards have evolved in the past few years — and maybe that’s a good thing. The rise of the Internet and the decline of traditional journalism have challeged the industry’s integrity in many ways, as we have seen. Perhaps here there is at least a germ of relevant thought on what the local news operation ought to be about, as a matter of principle.* If not, this might be a good time to define what it is. . . before the next gruesome audio comes along.
*not a popular concept, and known to interfere with short-term profitability.