How To Cover A Hanging :: Poynter Online

Update: Poynter has more resources. Al Tompkins’ Morning Meeting column. Pat Walters offers up analysis of coverage in Saturday Update: Coverage of the Execution and its Aftermath. Poynter truly does a great job of providing resources for journalists. Better than any other site, I believe.

Macabre, I know. But, let’s face it … Saddam Hussein is about to be executed and the issue for journalists – editors/producers and publishers/broadcasters – is very real. Also, we just don’t see headlines like that these days.

…this event has the potential to cause many things from intensifying the violence to serving as a denouement…

Yet, Poynter Online has the story covered… quite well, actually. Read How to Handle the Hanging: Covering the Saddam Hussein Execution.

My guess is that the denouement aspect won’t play out. It will likely heighten tensions and violence. But, how should it be covered?

Just a few of the issues to consider:

  • The hanging is supposedly being videotaped. If the videotape is leaked, would you air it?
  • Absent the video, would you air/publish a still photo of the hanging?
  • Does a resolution to the Saddam saga require publication of a photo/video of him providing proof of his death?
  • Are there Muslim religious considerations? Will broadcast or publication cause uprisings elsewhere in the world?
  • The hanging may occur within hours or days. No one knows when. From the government’s point of view, should it be planned as an end to this year and the beginning of a new era, or should it just happen within the required 30 day period.

There is so much more. This has the potential of being one of the most important stories of 2007. It could drive political and social action. It could just be another day. Who knows what will happen in the world after it occurs. But, it is essentially the final act of what this war was (supposed to be) all about … the removal of Saddam Hussein. Update: CNN is reporting that the execution will occur this evening at 10:00 p.m. Eastern time. After briefly looking at the three cable networks, CNN and Fox are doing wall to wall analysis/news and MSNBC is letting Keith Olbermann’s show proceed as usual. It appears to be a “Best of…” year-end show. Oh, brother.

So, go read what the many people at Poynter Online have to say. The people they’ve pulled together for the article are: Pat Walters, Naughton Fellow and many other contributors: Bill Mitchell, Howard Finberg, Bob Steele, Roy Peter Clark, Jill Geisler, Keith Woods, Aly Colón, Scott Libin, Leann Frola.

If it were up to me, I’d publish/air one still photo. I would use many reaction photos from those in attendance, if available. Then, I’d have many, many interviews with Iraqi citizens and U.S. citizens. I would avoid the easy option of using political analysts and go solely with statements from top U.S., Iraqi and world political leaders and the citizen interviews. Particularly important among the citizen interviews will be parents of slain soldiers and survivors of 9/11. What do they think about this? Is this the resolution they hoped for post 9/11?