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San Diego Police Shooting Gets Live Coverage

— Last Friday, San Diego police disabled a man with a knife, in front of police headquarters, by shooting him with bean bags and rubber bullets. This wouldn’t have been so remarkable if the shooting hadn’t been captured on camera and broadcast live on the KFMB-TV, Channel 8 website.

The man in question, Mark Steven Brown, was described by a police spokesperson as a long-time nuisance who had a history of vandalizing squad cars. Lt. Andra Brown (no relation) said last week the man was in front of SDPD headquarters threatening people with a knife. She would not comment on Mr. Brown’s mental condition.

KFMB’s coverage of the shooting got the attention of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication and Mediaite.com. Mediaite remarked that coverage of live events on a station’s web stream allows it to stay with the event much longer. It can also broadcast violence and profanity that might be censored by FCC rules.

The Annenberg School related the event to the scholarship of one of their professors, Barbie Zelizer, who has written a book about images of people facing death.

It’s ironic that Mr. Brown was not facing death but you would not have known that by watching most of KFMB’s live coverage. You just see is a bunch of cops with shot guns who begin firing on a man with a knife. Who knew the bullets were made of rubber?

I’ve spent most of my career in public broadcasting and that means I’ve spent very little time chasing fire engines and police cars. Only my brief stint with the CBS affiliate in Minneapolis caused me to cover crime scenes where the TV photographers made sure they got shots of the body bags and the blood stains on the sidewalk.

Prof. Zeliger’s book is called, “About to Die: How News Images Move the Public.” You can watch an interview with her. Death shouldn’t be a spectator sport and prurient interests should be left unsatisfied. But people are killed when bombs go off in war, and journalists always need to ask themselves how far they should go to make sure people realize that.

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