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Making Sense of the I-275 Crash Video

Feb 17, 2014

It was a tragic, horrific car crash on I-275 in Tampa.  A driver was going south in the northbound lanes on an early Sunday morning.

He ran head-on into a car carrying four University of South Florida students.

The fiery crash killed all five.

And it was all caught on video by another driver in the southbound lanes.

The video can be upsetting to watch, especially when you consider that you are watching five people die.

But the video has been used -- in full and in part -- by many news organizations.

Is that the right ethical call by the media?

"I will tell you what I tell journalism organizations when they call me all the time. There is no one right answer," said Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute's "Sense-Making Project." "The key is to figure out what your journalism values are and then search for an alternative that helps you uphold those values."

And that kind of decision making is evident in how various media outlets used this crash video.

McBride said almost every news organization in Tampa market made a different decision on how to use the video.

"The Tampa Tribune used the video but they didn't use the audio. And they did that because the audio in that clip is almost as disturbing as the video itself. It's emotional," she said. "Bay News 9 used the audio and the video but  they cut it off before the moment of impact. WFLA and Fox 13, they used the video in small chunks in their news product on the air."

So what is the journalistic purpose of showing a video like this?

"I will tell you what Ann Glover, the digital media editor of the Tampa Bay Times told me.  They used the entire video," McBride explained.  "She said that video shows what happened. It answers the question, what happened in a way that no words could ever do. And isn't that what journalism is supposed to do?"