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News director editorial on racial slur defacing

Published On: Feb 13 2014 08:39:27 PM CST

At KWCH-TV - one of our principles is to be transparent with you about the tough decisions we must make in our newsroom.  Today we spent about 45 minutes in an editorial meeting debating whether or not to show racial slurs that had defaced a mural in Wichita and a building in Delano.  Our story that aired at 9 and 10 pm centers around a community effort paint over the hate and spread a message of love, tolerance, and diversity.

Our debate didn't start over whether or not to cover the story.  We had already decided that - or so we thought.

The beginnings of the discussion centered around whether or not to show a racial slur aimed at Latinos in its entirety, or to blur it.  Like many newsrooms across the nation, ours is very diverse; perhaps more so because we also produce news for Univision Kansas.  So the debate, while very civil, was also very intense.

One of our photojournalists made a strong argument in favor of showing the slurs.  The impact of the hate-filled graffiti defacing the mural was much stronger if we showed the words, rather than blurring them.  (Incidentally some people connected to the story also believed that).

I'll agree with him to a point.  Seeing the slurs does hit home, and creates a lasting impression.  But someone else made a counter argument, questioning whether showing a racial slur would do more harm than good.  That person's argument - whomever painted the slurs on the mural and buildings basically gets what they want:  Media attention.  Now the debate took a different turn.

Should we even cover the story at all?  Maybe the defacing of the mural wasn't the real story?

Ultimately we decided the real story was a community coming together to paint over the slurs, and figure out whether or not to take their murals, and their message of tolerance, into other regions of the city.

Now back to the slurs.  Do we show them or not?

We have these discussions from time to time in our newsroom concerning many different kinds of slurs, swear words, even symbols that imply hate.  As part of the discussion today, we reached out to members of our staff (not just in the newsroom) who have deep ties to our Latino community.  The overwhelming feeling among them:  The slur was very offensive, and they believed many in the Latino community would feel the same way.  Ultimately, using the slur might detract from the impact of the story and the real message the group who painted the murals is bringing to our community.

Ultimately, here's what we decided to do:  Blur the slur in wide shots of the mural, and allow close-up shots of only a small portion of the slur.

The good folks of Delano made our jobs easier by getting right to work painting over some of the slurs.  I think you'll agree with me that showing them doing their work, and not the hate-filled words is a much more powerful picture of what actually happened Thursday.  Kansans uniting to erase a message of hate and spread a message of tolerance.

Did we make the right decision?  Feel free to send me an email at bgregory@kwch.com and let me know what you think.

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