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For victims like Brookfield boy, how much do we report?



Published: Sun, August 30, 2009 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Todd Franko (Contact)


By Todd Franko

If your house gets broken into, how much detail should The Vindicator report to the community? Your address? Your name? Contents taken?

Make the victimization even more personal:

If you are mugged, how much of the incident should The Vindicator report to the community? Your injuries? Your name?

Take the crime to a more tragic level, and, specifically, consider a case that has been in The Vindicator this week: How much information should the community know when a child has been abused?

An 8-year-old boy’s tales of two years of torment at the hands of his stepfather was unearthed this week in Brookfield Township. It’s tragic: The boy told officers he’d had his hand shut in a door, was hit with a belt and baseball bat, and had fingers stuck down his throat. Police saw black eyes, bruises, a cut and a bump on the back of the child’s head.

It was a neighbor’s call that finally got police involved in the case.

The stepfather, Damion Wise, 30, of 5961 Everett East Road, was arrested. He had another charge of domestic violence already against him and was sentenced to one year for that Thursday. These new charges could net him 16 additional years, if convicted.

That this case emanated from a neighbor’s concern is the part of media reporting that satisfies Dr. Paul McPherson, medical director of the Youngstown child advocacy center for Akron Children’s Hospital.

That is what the public needs to know, he said — that they can have a role in saving a child and it can be anonymous and it can halt a tragedy.

He also said the public should know the magnitude of the boy’s injuries as it helps convey the seriousness of such cases.

But, McPherson has a concern with media reports that named the child and showed photos of his body.

All area TV and newspapers have used the photos.

Use of the boy’s name has been mixed.

We used it in our initial online report, but not in print. It’s since been removed from the original online report. The boy’s name has been used consistently by the Tribune-Chronicle and WYTV/WKBN. The Sharon Herald has named him. I could not determine whether WFMJ used the name.

McPherson said such knowledge will prolong the boy’s exposure and thus prolong the challenge of treating the mental effects of abuse.

“Kids can easily come up to him in school and say, ‘Hey dude, can I see your bruises?’” said McPherson.

“When it comes to physical abuse, not only do kids have physical abuse, we also see emotional-health issues. They’re embarrassed, ashamed, feel guilty and confused.

“So in treating them, we not only work with broken bones; also, we want them to heal mentally. Anything that can prolong the mental-health challenges becomes a problem.”

He would have preferred that the boy’s name as well as the police photos of the injuries be omitted from media reports.

I absolutely agree on the name. I have to ponder his advice on the photos.

And that’s an illustration of the nature of media.

There is no perfect answer for what’s enough or not enough. The definition varies from company to company. As a reader/viewer, when you’re in an extensive media market such as ours, you get to watch, measure — and ultimately choose what style you like and don’t like.

The standard of what’s enough or not enough also changes with time.

I’ve been in the field for 25 years. When I started, the standard was that we printed every victim’s name except for sexual-assault victims and suicides in a private setting.

But in the last 10 years, extensive debate and study has moved some media professionals to allowing more privacy for crime victims as they recover.

Clearly, there’s room for more debate and study.


Comments

1city_dweller(193 comments)posted 4 years, 12 months ago

I think the line between juvenile abuse victim and juvenile sexual abuse victim is far too fine to make a difference in how they are treated by media. For any media outlet to justify publishing this boy's name, saying that an 8-year-old abuse victim is somehow different than a 14-year-old rape victim is misguided, self-serving, and nigh unconscionable. We can't split hairs over the trauma suffered by children of violent crime -- which includes domestic abuse.

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2GCoursen(1 comment)posted 4 years, 12 months ago

As News Director of WKBN,WYFX and WTYV, I take exception to this column. Mr. Franko is addressing the very real issue of how far the media should go in identifying victims of crime. The
article revolves around the recent horrific apparent child abuse case in Brookfield Township.

Mr. Franko's column, while dealing with a legitimate subject, slyly uses the chosen soapbox to publish inaccurate and bias
information. The sentence "The boy's name has been used consistently by the Tribune-Chronicle and WYTV/WKBN." is false. When WKBN
broke the story on their noon news on Monday, August 24th, the decision was already made that we would not disclose the identity
of the 8 year old victim. A script search indicates that neither WKBN or WYTV broadcast the identity of the victim. Furthermore I
find it laughable that while Mr. Franko was able to determine to his journalistic satisfaction that two television stations, and
three newspapers revealed the victim's name, he "could not determine whether WFMJ used the name." For those of you that don't
know, WFMJ and The Vindicator share owners. Can you say free pass?

Mr. Franko admits that the Vindicator website did at one point reveal the victim's name, and the article has since been removed.
WKBN.COM and WYTV.COM did the same thing, mistakenly disclosing the boy's first name when a web producer rewrote the story. The story was removed. However while Mr. Franko makes the distinction that
the name was never printed in the Vindicator, he affords no such consideration that the name was never broadcast on WYTV or WKBN.

And finally, there is another inaccuracy in Mr. Franko's column that needs corrected. The alarm to authorities was not made by
neighbors, but rather by an individual who we only described as "a man working on the roof." when we exclusively interviewed him. At his request we protected his name,
face, and his total role in the saga from public disclosure.
Gary Coursen
News Director
WKBN/WYTV/WYFX

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3toddfranko(99 comments)posted 4 years, 12 months ago

Gary:

It's unfortunate you would use a case like this incident to try to create corporate motive.

I found the boy's name on your web site Saturday -- six days after you "broke" the story. First search, top story.

Your above spin work on your reporting is remarkable. When you emailed me first thing Sunday morning, you weren't aware of its presence: "Where did you see it? I’ve been unable to locate his name in our scripts."

I'll direct you and others so as to dispel any corporate conspiracy theory:

STORY:
An 8-year-old Brookfield boy, named (XXXXX), who police say was badly abused, is out of the hospital and recovering at Trumbull County Children Services.

LINK:
http://www.wytv.com/content/news/loca...

Let's not make this about competing companies. Make it about the need to watch how victims are treated by media.

I'm glad you explained your policies.

Here's a web site I like to use from time to time:
http://dartcenter.org. Check it out.

Thanks,
Todd

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4toddfranko(99 comments)posted 4 years, 12 months ago

This email came in Sunday:
Todd:
I read with interest your comments on the handling of the reporting on the abused eight yr. old boy and others.
Having been an advocate for children in the juvenile court for many years I feel it is imperative that the community be made aware of these cases, so many go unreported. Complacency comes easy.
Although I agree with you and Dr McPherson, that the names should be omitted, a picture of the physical damage (minus the identifying face), helps to impress on one the extent of the physical damage. The psychological and emotional damage is another story.
All too often reasonably intelligent people with whom I have discussed this issue seem unaware that this type of abuse actually happens in our community.
Comments I get often shock me. Recently:
--An associate stated "no doubt most of your cases are of a particular racial or ethnic background;"
--Another professional woman stated, "the neighborhoods you must have to enter, this just doesn't happen in our backyards;"
--Still another, "there are services that take care of these issues."
Nothing could be further from the truth!
All of these statements are misguided. The last, regarding " services" provided, yes, there are services provided but the abuse needs to be discovered and reported before these services can help.
Too many people don't want to get involved and don't.
Many, esp. children and the elderly, slip through the cracks.
On another related subject, you might consider an article on the effects the drug problem has had on the family and the increase in child abuse and dependency as a result of parents with serious on going drug addition.
Thank you for your article.

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5Mona_Alexander(1 comment)posted 4 years, 12 months ago

WFMJ did not air nor did it publish on its website the name of the 8 year old Brookfield child. No "free pass" was ever offered by Todd Franko or anyone else at The Vindicator.

This kind of ill conceived assumption is, I suspect, the kind of news judgement that lead WKBN/WYTV to foist upon its news viewers an over hyped "empty box" Traficant "exclusive."

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6Mahcntyvoter(30 comments)posted 4 years, 12 months ago

The photos of the boy should have never been public. First of all these photos were most likely taken in a ER setting. Which makes them part of a medical record. If they were then taken out by police a detective probalby signed a form of confidentiallity, which states the HIPPA law and its violations. By signing this form the detective states that he is aware of these violations which is a federal offense and a civil offense. Releasing any of thse types of pictures can become a major problem if someone pursues the issue.

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