A woman who didn’t want to be interviewed by a Providence TV reporter had her two pit bulls attack the reporter. View a clip of the incident:
Dogs Bite Reporter
The episode raises difficult news media issues.
(1) How hard should you press for an interview?
Getting interviews no one else gets makes the careers of journalists and persistence is admirable and necessary. But was the reporter here (Abbey Niezgoda) persistent or too reckless? Once the woman (Melissa Lawrence) started throwing rocks Neizgoda and videographer Marc Jackson should have left the scene. No story is worth your life and this could have been a fatal incident. After all, Lawrence, a mother whose daughter had just been shot, had no obligation to speak to anyone.
As the tape shows, Neizgoda even went back to Lawrence after having been bit. She’s got guts, no doubt, but the pit bulls could have killed her.
(2) Should the videographer have come to the reporter’s aid?
The videographer continued to shoot tape instead of helping the reporter. Should he have stopped shooting and helped? That’s a tough situation. The first rule in reporter-videographer relations is to have each other’s back. But how could the videographer have helped given the dogs were chasing the reporter down the street? Taping the incident frankly makes a star out of the reporter (this is prime resume tape stuff) and also provides the evidence needed to charge the dog owner. The real question is what would the videographer have done if the attack had gotten more serious or even deadly?
(3) What is appropriate behavior when being bugged by the media?
This requires some reasoned thinking and never includes siccing your pit bulls on the news team. Lawrence committed assault and deserved to be charged (two felony counts). When pressed by reporters, never lose your cool. If you do, that’s certain to make it on the air. Be calm and persistent about not being interviewed. That ends it right there.
Every news reporter/videographer team in America should be discussing today what their expectations are of each other on a shoot that becomes dangerous. It’s critical they are on the same page before something explosive occurs.
The writer is a former TV news anchor/reporter and an adjunct media professor at the College of St. Rose.