The decision not to publish the Walmart shootout video

Today on you’ll find a story with updated information on the Jan. 23 shootout at the Port Orchard Walmart and some description of what investigators saw on the survelliance video that captured the incident that left two Kitsap County sheriff’s deputies injured, and a 30-year-old man and 13-year-old girl dead. Later we plan to update that story with an interview with the woman who made the initial 911 call, and possibly details from the investigation.

Later today you may see that video elsewhere online, and it may also be shown on tonight’s television news out of Seattle.

You will not see that video on our website. Not because we missed obtaining that crucial part of the story — we’ve had it most of today and even edited the video into a package that could be posted online. Rather, after a discussion among editors and reporters, the decision was made not to put it online under our name.

These decisions are taken very seriously here, if you remember the column I wrote last year after we spent time in court obtaining the dash-cam video that showed the incidents leading to a fatal shooting by a police officer in Silverdale. That’s why I share them with you when it comes up. Reporting on death is tough on it’s own; having a video that shows a person’s demise, whatever the circumstances, prods opinions and ethical questions that take some time to work through.

Among the factors we weigh are the graphic violence shown, the news value of the images, the context of the story and responsibility we assume to be a watchdog on law enforcement, and, perhaps most difficult, putting ourselves in the shoes of survivors of the deceased or other victims.

Law enforcement’s actions from Jan. 23 are not in question. We reported late last week that ballistics testing shows the 30-year-old suspect in the incident shot and killed the 13-year-old girl before turning the gun on himself, and the video, from a vantage point at least a few hundred feet away, does not contradict that finding. The video is not overly graphic or violent, but it shows a sheriff’s deputy writhing in pain after a gunshot wound, and the death of two others. Whatever the circumstances, both are human beings with lives and families, and the loss they feel is not something we will ignore.

We made the decision not to publish the video prior to learning it had been published online by others. We made the decision with the knowledge that it may be shown on television news. The competitiveness in every journalist exists in us, and we don’t enjoy the fact that our readers will get a piece of a local news story from another source.

But this video is one piece that, if you feel you need to see it, you must find elsewhere.

—David Nelson

2 thoughts on “The decision not to publish the Walmart shootout video

  1. Thank you to David Nelson and Kitsap Sun – your decision to not publish the video, knowing that people would go to alternate media sources, is commendable. Your decision shows compassion and decency toward all involved – something that seems to happen less and and less often in the media. I truly respect your decision.

  2. I think the decision not to show the video on the kitsap Sun website was made poorly.

    The job as a newspaper is to report the news and in today multi media world this was part of it. Would you do the same for a local Tsunami or earthquake? I doubt it. This is censoring publicly available footage.
    As the footage displayed the events but was not overly graphic (by clearly displaying anyone in agony or body parts or blood) there should have been a link to the footaget; Let your users decide if they want to click the link and view it and stop worrying about your image and think about what your users want to see and know when they visit your website or newspaper. Additionally, I would not be surprised if you showed stillcam images from the video footage in your newspaper (hardcopy) and I fail to see much of a difference between that and video images you won’t display.
    I realize you dont want to offend families – but the cats out of the bag and public and as you already acknowledged viewable on other websites. I suspect your decision was based more on fear of backlash than respect for families – and a fearful news orginization is not the ‘news’ organization I respect.

    Sorry team – I like your reporting usually and I know you get bashed on occasion by the peanut gallery but in this case I feel you made a bad call.

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