The Kirkwood security catastrophe

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Is KSDK always “on your side”?


On Jan. 16, the staff of KSDK news channel five released a broadcast on School Security. Using an undercover reporter, they “tested” the security of five school in the St. Louis area— Becky David Elementary, KennardClassical Junior Academy, Parkway’s own Bellerive Elementary and Kirkwood High— entering the school as a visitor, welcome or unwelcome, would. They concluded that, of the five, Kirkwood was severely unprotected, letting the reporter walk freely through the building even after coming into contact with two administrative figures. The angle that was portrayed to the St. Louis community gave the impression that this was a heroic act, causing the Kirkwood School District to reevaluate their school security.

To some extent, this is true, they did in fact evoke a reaction from the school district, which, admittedly, will change the security for the well-being of all Kirkwood  students in a time of legitimate danger. However, the KSDK staff made an egregious mistake that all forms of documentation tend to do as well; they missed a voice. Not the voice of one, but of an entire community. You see, what KSDK failed to cover well was the response of the Kirkwood community. Indeed, they do mention that the school went into lock down well after the reporter left the school, but they do not understand the severity of that situation.

Ever since tragedies like shootings at Columbine High School and Sandy Hook Elementary, there has been a national response to how to increase school security, a well-contended subject in Washington now, with little to no useful change actually trickling down to areas like West County.  But as senators sit equivocating the relatively unimportant pros and cons of gun control, they fail to see that students are now living in fear of the possibility of death, in a place where that should be the least of their worries. What the reporter (and the KSDK staff that oversaw the project) failed to see is that their actions on Thursday evoked that fear in Kirkwood’s students during the lock down. Stacey Woodruff, a Kirkwood student, even told stltoday.com‘s Jessica Bock that “[the students] would hear footsteps… [They] were really scared but [they] were trying not to show it” (full article here). That was the major flaw of what happened: not bad intentions, rather, failure to see a reaction to their coverage. While there investigation may have been “procedural and legal,” the manner in which it was conducted is simply objectionable.

 

The Root of the Problem


With any and all forms of media coverage, there is something that its facilitators must understand, and something that Parkway’s publications students are taught from the beginning; Your job as a member of a media staff is not to make the News, but to cover it. This was the offense that occurred, and certainly could have been fixed. As a whole, any sort of “undercover journalism” isn’t truly journalism at all — its goal is to entertain, not inform. If a reporter sets out on a case that’s going to cause news, that is not a just way to cover the topic. There was truth and plenty of news value behind the story that KSDK released, but the better to go about it would be go to the schools with journalistic intentions; could the reporters not have asked the school’s building directors about how they protect their students from potential threats without triggering one themselves? Not only do I think they could have, but they could have done it and still uncovered the same information without falsifying students and parents to believe that they were in any form of danger.

The next problem that I think KSDK ran into is that once they had the information (including the fact that the school community went into an uproar afterwards,) they chose to present it in a way that did not tell the full story. This is a problem that extends further than just the actions of the KSDK staff, but to the media in this nation as a whole. People are entitled to information that lends itself for them to make their own opinions or judgements on a subject. They do not need slanted information that will only allow them to feel one way. The video that KSDK released would have me believe that the station did a beneficial act, and the reaction from Kirkwood was all just parents getting upset with a tiny inconvenience. Outside research that I conducted from the Kirkwood Call and the St. Louis Post Dispatch gave me a more clear concept of what actually happened as a result of it, and therefore changed my opinion.

 

An Underwhelming Attempt at Reconciliation


After reading “Where KSDK went wrong” by the Kirkwood Call‘s copy editor, Ian Madden, I recognized yet another objection to the event as a whole. He mentions the apology that was elicited during KSDK’s broadcast, and presented it in a way that I would not have been able to consider on my own. Relating his thoughts to Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music awards, he said he agreed with the facts that were presented by KSDK. However, he was also severely affected by the fact that all the school district got as compensation from the station was, “We have heard you, and we are sorry.” Nothing else. They didn’t even describe what they did wrong. In light of this, I recognize that in the event that a media sources makes a tactical error, an unspoken contract between the station and the audience is broken, and needs to be fixed. Whether that be with a follow up, a letter to the community, or just a formal apology does not matter. More could have, and should have, been done on the part of the station.

 

Conclusion


This article is a personal attempt to shed light on things that are bigger than me, and are therefore out of my hands. I have no intention to insult anyone; I just want the community of St. Louis to recognize that lessons can be taken from this catastrophe. The first applies to this article itself: the concept of biased media. I implore the readers to not take my word for this, but to look at the situation for themselves. I am just a high school sophomore, and the simple reality is that my existence as a human being and my life experiences give me my own bias. That being said, I’ve put links to other news sources in this piece and embedded a link to the video of KSDK’s Thursday night broadcast. The only way to know that I am not lying to you is to learn the facts for yourself, right?

My other point that I’d like to leave you with as a reader is that you have a voice, too. And if a reporter is in fact a good journalist, they will hear that voice and (hopefully) give it an adequate representation as well. As a journalist, it is not my job to make the news, but to be aware and available to report it, and ultimately the responsibility for the news is really in the hands of the people.  In the mean time, I will be here, paper and pen in hand, listening to the voice of the Parkway West, West County and St. Louis community.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Parkway School District.

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