Tuesday, May 08, 2001

Media's aim: Cover situation without inflaming it

By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati newsrooms prepared for possible civil unrest after Monday's grand jury announcement by reviewing lessons learned during last month's street violence.

        “After the last incident, we're going to be more careful,” said Ken Jobe, WLWT (Channel 5) news director, referring to the violence that erupted after a Cincinnati police officer shot an unarmed man, Timothy Thom as, 19, early on April 7.

        News directors and editors said their top priority Monday was putting the news in perspective, and assuring the safety of reporters and photographers covering community reaction to the indictments.

        Officer Stephen Roach was indicted Monday on two misdemeanor charges. The 6 p.m. announcement by Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen was carried live by Channels 5, 9, 12 and 19, CNN and Ohio News Network.

        Channels 5 and 9 canceled the 6:30 p.m. network news to broadcast indictment reaction and other local news until 7 p.m.

        WKRC-TV (Channel 12) carried Dan Rather's CBS Evening News, which included a report from Cincinnati on the indictments. CBS' Jim Axelrod showed video of boarded-up Over-the-Rhine businesses and declared that “downtown looks like a hurricane is coming.”

        While CBS and CNN replayed file footage of last month's street mobs for the national audience, Cincinnati stations refrained.

        Elbert Tucker, Channel 12 news director, ordered his producers to limit use of file video of the unrest.

        “We know our use of that (video) could result in some feelings being stirred up again,” Mr. Tucker said. “We don't want to run video for video sake. But if it's needed, we'll use it.”

        Pat Casey, WXIX-TV (Channel 19) news director, issued a memo to staffers asking them to pay “extreme attention” to every word said and every picture put on the air, “so as not to overly hype a situation that's obviously sensitive,” said Jon Lawhead, Channel 19 general manager.

        Since April 10, the first night of violence, Channel 5 has demonstrated restraint by not airing video of angry people confronting videographer Mike Miller. He ran back to his WLWT news van, where he was injured when someone smashed the driver's window with a bottle.

        “We had video and chose not to show it. I didn't want to inflame the situation in any way,” Mr. Jobe said.

        The attack on Mr. Miller prompted news organizations — including the Enquirer — to adopt a buddy system. Photographers and reporters were sent in pairs.

        “I think we were all a little naive the first time out,” said Ward Bushee, Enquirer editor and vice president. One Enquirer photographer was struck by rubber bullets last month; another was jostled and kicked by three men after Timothy Thomas' funeral April 14.

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