The death-penalty news debate

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The death-penalty news debate

Post  Jennie on Mon Jul 07, 2008 10:36 pm

One would think that Beth Cioffoletti did all she needed to do - and then some - to get the coverage she sought in her newspaper. But on Wednesday I found her phone message questioning why the paper "did not cover a major opposition event at the Diocese of Palm Beach against the death penalty last night."

The paper "had had a lot of coverage of the death penalty all week," Ms. Cioffoletti noted, "and I made all efforts to make sure that they knew that this was going to happen last night, during the actual execution" by lethal injection of child rapist and murderer Mark Schwab.

"The bishop was there," she said. "We had a big, big crowd in front of the cathedral, publicly witnessing against the execution that was being done in our name. Fortunately, one of the TV stations covered it, and they did talk to the bishop. But I just felt that it was very important that in light of the death penalty that The Palm Beach Post at least have a picture of this, because it was big. It was a public outcry against the killing that's being done in our name. And I'm just really kind of upset that The Palm Beach Post didn't make any effort whatsoever to be there to cover it, to at least get a picture.

"I know I wrote and sent several, several press releases, the week before, the very day," she said. "I personally e-mailed the two people who wrote the articles that were in the Sunday newspaper about the death penalty, that this was going to take place. And it seems like The Palm Beach Post just had no interest whatsoever. If you have any insight as to why they didn't feel this was important, let me know."

It was to the decision-makers in the newsroom that I turned for that insight. But the question provided another reminder that the paper as an institution is a reflection of staffers with varied duties and deadlines, interests, emphases and news judgment. The latter, for example, even can mean questioning how obligated is the paper to cover events that, unlike this one, specifically are aimed at getting coverage.

"We have to make tough decisions on a daily basis about what to cover and how and what not to cover," said Post Managing Editor Bill Rose. "We also have limited space in the newspaper.

"In this case, we had room to run a couple of photos - one on the front page and one inside," he said. "We chose to focus on the family of the victim and protesters celebrating at the scene of the execution, rather than on protesters gathered in front of a local church. The Catholic Church's opposition to the death penalty is well-known. We ran a photo of the 11-year-old victim's family on the front page, and inside, we ran a photo of protesters outside the prison celebrating the death of the killer."

"In retrospect," said Mr. Rose, "I wish we had found a way to also run a photo of the local protesters to let readers know there was a local reaction to big news happening elsewhere." The benefits of such second-guessing help show why, regardless of whether they agree with readers, it's almost always a good thing when the paper's staff members hear from readers.

(source: Editorial, Palm Beach Post)

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