This is a continuation of live-blogging the Minnesota News Council hearing. The first “case” (against KSTP) has been decided. Follow along here.
The next case is bound to be heart-wrenching for everyone(Update: Here’s a PDF file of the story documents). A father complains that a TV station unfairly used the death of his soldier son in Duluth as a case of post-traumatic stress syndrome and inappropriately used information on MySpace. Using MySpace information is increasingly common for newsies. Journalists are being encouraged to use it as a source — as this article from the American Journalism Review attests. It’s not without risks, however.
The general parameters of this case are covered in an earlier post here. There are also some very insightful News Cut reader comments attached.
One of the pieces of “evidence” attached with the packet for News Council members is a hand-written letter and a picture of his son’s grave.
(Latest blog entry is at the bottom)
1:22 p.m. – The story video is being played. The Sheda family has left the room. The story is mostly about PTSD. There is a reference to Sheda, that he may have suffered from PTSD, citing an entry on MySpace.
1:27 – “They never called us,” Tony Sheda tells the News Council. “If they did, we could have told him what a happy-go-lucky guy he was. He made some mistakes that night. The pain they caused our family is terrible.
He had a blood alcohol content of .24. “Adam didn’t go in there, waving a gun and saying, ‘kill me.’ He waved $100 bill and asked to join the party. They took his money, beat him, and then shot him.
“The worst is the slander they did to a fine American soldier. Just imagine what we felt like around the holidays. Just imagine if they’d said that about your son or your daughter. Adam wasn’t perfect, but he didn’t have a death wish.”
“He was in Iraq and when he’d come back from a mission, there was a 10 meter diving board that was off limits. The last week he was there, he climbed up and jumped off. They caught him and he was busted to E-5. That was Adam.”
Mrs. Sheda: “She (Reporter Barbara Reyelts) used Adam to make a point. She never talked to any psychologist. How could she make that statement that he was having post-traumatic stress disorder? I’m not saying he was or wasn’t, but how could she say that?”
1:38 p.m. David Jensch, news director of KBJR speaking. Says the station did contact the Shedas early on, but they declined to talk. Says veterans assistance group asked the station to do the story because PTSD was not being covered or talked about in Duluth.
“The Sheda story was covered by all media outlets, and was the best example of all veterans experiencing emotional wounds. It wasn’t about PTSD. Our story never said that Adam Sheda suffered from PTSD; we could never have known that.
Was it fair to report he had a death wish based on a MySpace post. What was reported, the manager says, is he may have had a death wish. “Barbar Reyelts has never reported that Adam Sheda had a death with.”
“Responsible journalists seek both sides of the story, which is what Barbara Reyelts did,” he said. “Responsible journalism seeks input from all sources. This was done. This story has merit. It was produced in cooperation with people who work with veterans who think these issues are still being ignored.”
Sheda rebuttal: “Here we go again. When Adam was killed, we refused interviews. But that was in July, five months before he was killed. They could’ve called us then and told us they were running the story.”
“They never asked,” Mrs. Sheda said.
Disputes KBJR manager’s assertion that the issue was mentioned on blogs. “I’ve seen some scary stuff written on blogs,” Mrs. Sheda said.
Mr. Sheda says he was drinking because they couldn’t drink in a Muslim country. “I’ve written stupid stuff and that was a stupid thing. But I’ve written that ‘cookies are to die for,’ but that’s not a death wish.”
“Why did eshe need to use Adam?” Mrs. Sheda said. “It was pretty sensational.”
“You speculate on blackjack. You speculate on a horse? You don’t speculate on a fine young man like that,” Mr. Sheda said.
1:50 p.m. Half of council members are looking down.
1:52 – David Jensch, news director: More involved than just a MySpace posting.
Council member Jane Berg asks if there’s any other soldier’s family that was willing to have their soldier’s story told?
“Not that I’m aware of,” says Jensch.
1:55 Council members are asking when a veterans agency official asked them to do the story. Jensch said he didn’t know. Mr. Sheda says he knows the official, he presented the flag to the family at the funeral.
1:58 Council member asks if any media asked to interview them in the months after Adam’s death. “Last summer was lost to us,” Mr. Sheda says.
He’s asked if the reporter had contact him, would the family have spoken.
“If she said Adam had a deathwish and we would’ve known that context, it would’ve been nice to give our side of the story, but if she’d called and done that, there would’ve been no story,” he says. ”
2:03 – Member Lorin Robinson to Shedas: Asks about a $40 an hour job. Did he plan to go back to work?
Mr. Sheda: Yes. Then talks about Adam donating a medal worth $1,000 to the air museum in Duluth. Says Channel 6 covered the ceremony despite being asked not to attend. “And they shoved a microphone in my face.” (See story here)
2:09 Council member: Had the whole incident not happened and Adam not have died, would the series have been done?
Jensch: “Yes.” But says he doesn’t know if the person who works with veterans pitched the story to the station because of the Sheda case.
2:12 “Was Myspace writing used in any other media?”
“In hindsight, would you have called them in October and November and said, ‘we’re doing this?”
Jensch: “Yes. I don’t think the reporter expected this level of sensitivity in the case. Everything that could be said about the Sheda case had been said. This reporter’s story was focused on the other couple. If I’d been editor, I’d have caught that but I wasn’t.”
Sheda to Jensch: “Did you say awhile ago that Adam struggled in Iraq…”
Jensch: “It appeared that….”
Sheda: “What does that mean, ‘it appeared?’ He loved being in the service.”
Justice Gilbert says, “we’re not going to get in an argument here.”
News Council comments
Elizabeth Costello – I appreciate the story because we don’t do enough to show what these young men do in Iraq. Says she’s not sure Adam was the best choice to show the kind of problems soldiers are experiencing. The Shedas were not contacted for this piece, “I think it would’ve been prudent to do that and give them the opportunity to talk about their son. Maybe it would’ve made the story richer.”
“As journalists, it shouldn’t be up to us” to make the determination that the MySpace writing was indicative of emotional issues.
Roberta Johnson — I think there’s a liberty that journalists take to interpret data in a way that it shouldn’t be interpreted. You really have no right to make a conclusion because youre’ not an expert. Ethically, that shouldn’t be allowed. “It isn’t your choice.” Psychologists are trained; journalists are not. (Bob notes: Scroll back to the archives of News Cut and find “elusive local connection.”)
Steve Schild – I don’t think the story is perfect, but I don’t question that there’s a connection between PTSD and the troubles in people’s lives. “It’s an important story and Adam Scheda was a part of that story.”
Noelle Hawton: “I don’t see the link between PTSD and his murder. You can’t make a judgment based on one MySpace entry. They inferred he had it and there was no proof he had it.”
Heather Harden: “PTSD is an important story to do. Part 2 of the story was excellent. Part 1 was bothersome to me. Mr. Jensch you said the story never said he had PTSD, but that’s disingenuous… In my opinion Adam Sheda was just plain murdered. What the media will not say that we all now is a drunk 26-year-old is a pretty normal event.”
“I’ve seen media drawn to a drunk 26 year old like rabid dogs to raw meat.” Calls the use of MySpace to conclude Sheda had a death wish “embarrassing.”
Issa Mansaray: “I don’t see the link in how he was killed in PTSD. It creates a problem for journalists coming into the profession. How should they cover stories like this?”
Al Zdon: “I think Mr. Jensch is careful to draw the distinction that the story… generally was about re-entry into the community after combat.” Says the use of MySpace was “pretty crummy journalism.”
Sheda rebuttal – “Done professionally, a story on post-traumatic stress would do a great story. Have it done with doctors. You don’t have to use a certain person. The minute Adam Sheda’s name was mentioned, it was like flies to dead meat. They could use that same time and have a good story and maybe it would help veterans. But a story like this didn’t help veterans.”
Mrs. Sheda: “I realize you need a hook when you do the story, but using the same footage as when Adam was murdered doesn’t make any sense.”
Jensch rebuttal – “It’s an important story and it’s hard to get the public’s attention. The local angle is an important way to drive home a point.”
1. Was it fair to use Adam Sheda as an example in a story about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? Yes: 8 No: 9
2. Was it fair to report that Adam Sheda had a death wish based on a posting he made on his MySpace account? Yes: 7 No: 10
Analysis – Very scary (to me) that there are 7 people here who thought saying someone may have had a death wish based on a single MySpace posting by a soldier in Iraq was fair.