Public editor

Protect children in the news

Updated: 2013-11-24T23:26:59Z

By DEREK DONOVAN

The Kansas City Star

Journalists have a particular responsibility to be careful when reporting about children. Even seemingly innocuous details may cause concern to parents, teachers and others charged with kids’ well-being.

Last week, I received email from a teacher who had visited with a Kansas City Star reporter and photographer at her school while they were working on a story. Later, the teacher considered one of the students with her, who has a disability and is therefore in a special education classroom. She talked with his parents, who did not wish for him to be included at all in any subsequent coverage.

That is a very understandable concern. Children can’t give meaningful consent in decisions such as this, and it’s a sad reality that being identified in a public forum as having special needs might bring unwanted attention and stigmatization.

I passed the request along to the editor working on the story, and she (of course) agreed to accommodate that reasonable request. When I spoke with a photo editor about this case, she told me the photographer had specifically wanted to depict this student in the interest of diversity, ironically. The event wasn’t specifically about his disability, but he was participating just like all the other kids. Still, the parents’ wishes should prevail.

When a photographer takes pictures of minors, The Star’s policy is to obtain permission from a parent, guardian, or officials at places such as schools or hospitals. While it’s generally legal to take photos of people in public even without their consent, photojournalists should always be aware of valid concerns about children’s privacy.

Covering cool tech

A caller last Thursday contacted me to applaud the tone of The Star’s ongoing coverage of Google Fiber, the high-speed Internet and television service from the search-engine and advertising giant.

“I think (The Star has) been writing about this the right way, looking at it like a business,” he said. “It’s just another product.”

He contrasted this with how much of the media covers another tech giant — Apple.

“I think you should tell your editors they need to treat Apple the same as any other enormous company,” he said. “Especially because iPads and iPhones are too expensive for most people, where’s the critical eye?”

While I generally resist lumping “the media” together too much, I think this caller brings up a very valid point here. Apple did not invent the touchscreen smartphone, nor did it invent the tablet. Yet I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to call a great deal of the coverage it gets fawning, especially at its dramatically orchestrated announcements of new gadgets.

The Star has been more measured than many national sources in its Apple coverage in recent years. The company is of course one of the biggest and best-known in the world, and with such a limited product line, announcements of new flagship offerings are indeed business news, of interest to investors and observers alike. I’d also note that The Star’s Business section has recently written about Apple’s recent earnings declines and reported cuts to orders of its lower-priced iPhone 5c.

But I agree with my caller that even when a company’s offerings have an undeniable gee-whiz factor, as with Google Fiber or the latest iPhone, news reports need to look beyond product features and lofty promises.

To reach Derek Donovan, call 816-234-4487 weekday mornings or send email to publiceditor@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/KCStarPublic.

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