The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Talkers

February 4, 2012

Spear: Does anchor’s DWI warrant all the coverage?

I have mixed feelings about the amount of coverage we have given Annie Stensrud, who, as a KEYC TV anchor, appeared drunk on the air, then a few weeks later was arrested for DWI.

We reported at least four stories on the case: the newscast and its going viral on You Tube, the fact that her case was brought up on “Latenight with David Letterman,” that she was later picked up for DWI and that her case is progressing through the courts.

Our Facebook fans have a lot to say about it. The dozens of comments ranged from questioning our continuing coverage and how it might hamper Stensrud’s recovery to assertions that the media shouldn’t be blamed for an individual’s actions.

I’m torn because I know we have a duty to report such things, and we reported on this more than the “normal DWI” partly because Stensrud was a “public figure.”

Whether you agree she should be held up to more scrutiny because of her role in the media is debatable. It’s also worth discussing whether she is more newsworthy due to her somewhat infamous “celebrity” status when her allegedly drunken news clip was replayed on David Letterman.

We had a healthy debate on this in our newsroom. Some argued we shouldn’t really be hiding this event because, after all, alcohol abuse was, and probably still is, a huge issue in this town. Others argued we don’t cover every DWI in this way.

 Ultimately, we ask ourselves: Would the majority of our readers want to know this? And the second, more important, question is: Does publishing these stories have a larger purpose than the gossip factor or that the story will be a “talker” and draw thousands of pageviews on our website?

Ultimately, I believe a vast majority of our readers would rather have us publish the story and leave them to figure out what it means. And while publishing stories just because we know everyone’s talking about them still makes me a bit uncomfortable, I think we can justify this as an issue that can generate productive public discussion.

Ultimately, I believe a local TV anchor is enough of a public figure to warrant coverage on some of their “private actions.” If I were to get a DWI, it would be reported in this newspaper.

Still, we may be hurting Stensrud more by publicizing this unfortunate event and this may make her recovery more difficult and painful. I’m sure the folks at Alcoholics Anonymous would agree. That organization sees anonymity as key to recovery. Many of us personally hope Stensrud does get help and we support her.

It sometimes comes down to “news is news.” It isn’t always easy or possible to avoid hurting people by publishing stories of public interest and importance.

Joe Spear is the editor of The Free Press. Contact him at 344-6382 or jspear@mankatofreepress.com.

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