On Wednesday, a disgruntled former employee of Roanoke, Virginia-based WDBJ-TV fatally shot two of the station’s journalists as they were conducting a live interview. The cameraman captured part of the scene before dying. I asked my Twitter followers: Should the video be shown or not? I’ve assembled their answers on Storify, so please have a look.
In asking my followers for their views, I was referring strictly to the video shot by cameraman Adam Ward. Even though he had been fatally wounded, he managed to keep rolling as the gunman, Vester Lee Flanagan II, shot him and reporter Alison Parker. CNN and many other news outlets showed all or part of Ward’s footage.
Later, footage shot by Flanagan himself popped up on his Twitter account under the name of his his on-air pseudonym, Bryce Williams. I managed to see it before Twitter suspended his account. It is far more harrowing than Ward’s video, and I don’t believe any news organization used it. (Update: The New York Daily News uses images from the Flanagan video on its front page today. I’m not going to link to it.)
The horrifying execution of journalist James Foley raises an uncomfortable if familiar question: Is there anything to be gained by watching the video of his beheading at the hands of an ISIS terrorist?
It’s a question that I explored 12 years ago, when Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was similarly murdered. I searched for the video online and found it at a website whose sick operators presented such fare for the entertainment of their disturbed viewers. I shared it with my friends at The Boston Phoenix, who — to my surprise — published several small black-and-white stills of Pearl’s beheading and provided a link to the full video. “This is the single most gruesome, horrible, despicable, and horrifying thing I’ve ever seen,” the Phoenix’s outraged publisher, Stephen Mindich, wrote in an accompanying editorial.
The Phoenix’s actions created a national controversy. I defended Mindich and editor Peter Kadzis, first in the Phoenix, later in Nieman Reports. (At the time I had left the paper to write my first book, though I continued to contribute freelance pieces. My departure turned out to be temporary. And Kadzis, my editor then, is also my editor now: he is the senior editor of WGBH News.) I wrote in the Nieman piece:
Daniel Pearl didn’t seek martyrdom, but martyrdom found him. The three-and-a-half-minute video shows us the true face of evil, an evil that manifested itself unambiguously last September 11…. We turn away from such evil at our peril.
I stand by what I wrote then, but I haven’t watched the execution of Jim Foley. In contrast to the Daniel Pearl footage, the Foley video is bright and clear, in high definition. I’ve watched a bit of it, listened to him speak while kneeling in the desert; but that was all I could handle.
Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby takes a different view, writing, “The intrepid and compassionate reporter from New Hampshire didn’t travel to Syria to sanitize and downplay the horror occurring there. He went to document and expose it.”
I don’t disagree. But it should be a matter of choice. Gawker, among the first media outlets to post a link to the video, made sure its readers knew that what they would see if they clicked was “extremely disturbing.” By contrast, the New York Post and the Daily News published front-page images of Foley (I’ve linked to a Washington Post story, not the actual images) just before his beheading — in the New York Post’s case, barely a nanosecond before.
It’s a fine line, but I’d say Gawker was on the right side of it, and the New York tabloids were not.
At the time of his capture, Foley was freelancing for GlobalPost, the Boston-based international news organization. GlobalPost co-founder and chief executive Phil Balboni, in a tribute published in the Globe, wrote:
For those of us who knew Jim, the road ahead will be particularly long and trying. As a lifelong journalist, the path forward for me will be rooted in a renewed and profound respect for a profession that for Jim was not a job, but a calling.
We’ve learned a lot since the execution of Daniel Pearl. One of the things we’ve learned is that bearing witness does not necessarily lead to a good result. Years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan have not created a safer world.
Do we have a right to view the James Foley video? Of course. Twitter, a private company that has become a virtual public utility, is heading down a dangerous road by banning images from the video. Should we watch the video as a way of witnessing unspeakable evil, as Jeff Jacoby argues? That, I would suggest, should be up to each of us.
Above all, we should honor the bravery and sacrifice of journalists like Daniel Pearl and James Foley, who take risks most of us can scarcely imagine. Let’s keep the Foley family in our thoughts, and celebrate the safe return of Peter Theo Curtis. And let’s send offer whatever good thoughts we can for Steven Sotloff, a fellow hostage of Foley’s who was threatened with death last week.
Good news for journalism students at Quinnipiac University: Kevin Convey, former editor of the Boston Herald and the New York Daily News, has been named chair of the university’s well-regarded journalism department.
Convey got his master’s degree at City University of New York after he lost his job at the Daily News. Last year Capital New York published a feature on Convey’s journey from editor to student. (Note: I covered Convey during his Herald days as The Boston Phoenix’s media columnist.)
Obviously Kevin Convey doesn’t wear the right kind of shoes.
Word came Wednesday afternoon that Convey, a former Boston Herald editor, was being replaced as editor of the New York Daily News (via Poynter). The new boss: Colin Myler, who was editor of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World when it was shut down amid the phone-hacking scandal. Myler was reportedly not involved, and even called out James Murdoch over his claims that he knew nothing about nothing.
According to Capital New York, Convey was seen by Daily News staffers as never quite fitting in during his two years at the helm. An unnamed source is quoted as saying that, among other things, “he dressed funny. What type of editor-in-chief wears Chuck Taylor All-Stars to work?” Well, there you go.
The shake-up at the Daily News gets a mention in the Boston Globe’s Names section today, and the Herald runs an Associated Press story that contains no reference to Convey’s Herald tenure (different in the print edition, perhaps?). The unanswered question is whether Herald publisher Pat Purcell would bring back Convey in some capacity. Convey’s a smart, interesting guy, and it would make sense to bring him in at least as a consultant, provided he wants to do it.
Now, follow the bouncing tabloid battles. Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman, whose roots are in Boston, hired Convey from the Herald, which used to be owned by Murdoch and whose current owner, Purcell, continues to have business ties to the “genocidal tyrant.”
Zuckerman’s competition, of course, is Murdoch’s New York Post. Now Zuckerman has replaced Convey with Myler, an old Murdoch hand who may be looking to get revenge. This should be fun.
Last year, David McKay Wilson profiled Convey for the Colby College alumni magazine. To shed further light on the scandal that brought Convey down, Wilson reports that Convey was wearing “black tasseled loafers” when they met — though without any socks.
“I haven’t worn socks in the summer for years,” Convey told Wilson. “I like cool beachy feet.” Hmmm.
Photo (cc) by Akira Kouchiyama and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.
Big news today at One Herald Square: Kevin Convey, a longtime Herald veteran who’s been editor-in-chief for the past three-plus years, is leaving to become editor of New York’s Daily News. He replaces Martin Dunn, whose departure was reportedly prompted by his wife’s battle with cancer.
I haven’t seen this mentioned anywhere, but Dunn was editor of the Herald for a very brief period in the early 1990s.
Convey’s new job entails a switch of tabloid loyalties. In Boston, the Herald is allied with its former owner, Rupert Murdoch. Herald publisher Pat Purcell, who bought the paper from his old boss in 1994, helps Murdoch run regional properties such as the Standard-Times of New Bedford and the Cape Cod Times.
In New York, the Daily News — owned by real-estate mogul Mort Zuckerman, who also has significant Boston ties — has been entangled for years in a steel-cage death match with the New York Post, whose owner, of course, is Murdoch. Here is the Daily News’ press release, along with Convey’s reaction:
I am looking forward to the challenge of editing the Daily News, which has some of the most talented people in the newspaper business and the web anywhere in the world. It is a great privilege.
Convey’s a smart guy who took over the Herald at a time when the paper, and the news business in general, was shrinking drastically. During the 1990s, he was part of the triumvirate that ran the paper, serving as managing editor for features along with editor Andy Costello and managing editor for news Andrew Gully. The trio was known, sometimes affectionately, sometimes not, as the “Micks with Dicks,” a commentary on their aggression as much as it was on their ethnicity.
Convey became editor-in-chief of Community Newspaper Co., which published about 100 papers in Eastern Massachusetts, when Purcell added it to his holdings in the early 2000s. After Purcell sold CNC to GateHouse Media a few years later, Convey returned to the Herald, serving as the paper’s number-two while editorial director Ken Chandler, tarted it up and made it more gossipy — more of a tabloid, if you like. After Chander moved on, Convey took over.
Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post wrote about Convey’s Herald in 2008.
Best of luck to Convey, who’s a good guy, and whom I generally found to be helpful and accessible back when I was covering the local media for the Boston Phoenix.
Needless to say, it will be fascinating to see who ends up succeeding Convey at the Herald.