When journalists keep a secret

When the media is the story, the media often has a different approach to covering that.

We saw that from the New York Times kept a lid on a story about its reporter’s kidnapping in Afghanistan. David Rohde was kidnapped by the Taliban in in 2008. Not until he escaped did news organizations, who knew about the situation, report it. That sparked a debate on whether there’s an inconsistency with the approach of news organizations to similar situations not involving a reporter.

“I think that is a weak spot in the underbelly of the decision making in these cases. We show a preference for one of our own in journalism generally by holding back a story or elements of a story compared to how we might cover the kidnapped oil field worker or diplomat or tourist. In those cases, we might not bring as serious a deliberative process to how we’re going to cover it,” the Poynter Institute’s Bob Steele told the Christian Science Monitor after Rohde escaped in 2009.

richard_engel.jpg The debate is sparked anew today after Gawker reported that NBC reporter Richard Engel is missing in Syria, or at least hasn’t checked in since Thursday. Gawker agreed to keep the situation secret, but has now spilled the story after it was printed in a Turkish newspaper.

But NBC News has been asking every reporter who inquires about the report to participate in a news blackout. It has also taken to Twitter and asked people who repeated the Turkish reports there to take them down. You can see here a screengrab of the Twitter account @NBCComm asking a Twitter user who had mentioned the reports to urgently call a cell phone number (that account has since been taken down).

NBC News declined to comment for the record about Engel’s whereabouts, but asked Gawker not to report what it characterized as “rumors” about Engel’s current status.

In 2002, Wall Street Journal officials chose to publish details of the kidnapping of reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan. He was beheaded.

Update 12/18 7:35 a.m.Engel has been freed from captivity.