Examining Motives in Journalism

This week, I was reviewing the Society of Professional Journalists website for inspiration on an ethical dilemma in the news and fell upon this case study. The ethics case study analyzed the topic of “Naming Victims of Sex Crimes” in the news, specifically children.

The case breaks down a few famous incidents, beginning with the case of Elizabeth Smart. This was a huge national story in 2002. Elizabeth returned safely to her parents, but they went on to write a book about their experience as well as make TV movie. SPJ writes that many reporters “grilled her about the details of the time she spent with her captors, leaving her visibly upset.” Now, Elizabeth Smart has her own book. Here’s a flashback to 2009 interview with Elizabeth Smart done by NPR. And here’s another flashback to 2006, when she spoke with Nancy Grace.

As SPJ clearly breaks down, the children and families in these incidents are the stakeholders. They are the ones who have had to deal with these scarring experiences, is putting them under the spotlight the right thing to do? The question SPJ gets at is: is it right to release the name of children victims? Is there a gain?

There are quite possibly situations where naming the child might actually be of help – for example, when and if the child is missing. However, journalists must examine how they release the information once it is uncovered that these children have been sexually abused. There is detriment to the children and families in these cases, most certainly. Especially, as previously discussed when news is now so easily accessed online. In most cases, once something is online – it’s there for good. It’s important to analyze the motives and impact that naming children victims could have.

More recently, Ms. Foundation for Women conducted an analysis of child sexual abuse in the news. They wrote that news coverage was obviously important in order to bring to the issue. However, this is about bringing light to the cases, not the names.

Al-Jazeera’s Allison Yarrow did an opinion piece on “When is it OK for the media to name rape victims?” In the piece, Yarrow covers how the internet can change someone’s life – and not always for the best. She details the pros and cons of naming victims as represented by journalists like Bob Steele, who say he wouldn’t use names, while others like Nicholas Kristof say anonymous is not the way to go.


One thought on “Examining Motives in Journalism

  1. This was a very interesting post. I never thought of the “missing” problem… It is true that when a kid goes missing media usually reveal his or her name and once it’s out there, it is not an easy task to make it disappear. This when the European Google thing would come in as a great tool. I think Google should make that kind of information invisible for people who ask for it.


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