Mar 29

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Where’s the balance to the Trayvon Martin story?

Trayvon_Martin_Occupy March 21

A man protests the death of Trayvon Martin in New York City Mar. 21, 2012 /Photo courtesy of Mike Fleshman

It’s hard for media to ruin their perfectly good story. And the events and aftermath of the Florida shooting that left 17-year-old Trayvon Martin dead by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman has the makings of a compelling narrative.

The story contains the witches-brew of a tabilod story: an innocent victim (usually a woman, but in this case, Trayvon), a celebrity, and of course, murder.

To top off the entertainment value, the events in Stanford, Fla. unearth questions anew about racism, gun rights, and self-defense law.

Thus, it’s understandable for the news media to be reluctant to put on the breaks, slow down, be fair and give the other side. The story gets messy that way. However, The New York Daily News printed a story giving the other side last Sunday titled “Trayvon Martin case: Friends come to George Zimmerman’s defense, saying he’s not racist, ‘fears for his life’: report.”

The story focused on the character of Zimmerman in the words of  his friends:

Joe Oliver, who said he has known Zimmerman for a decade, said his friend “couldn’t stop crying” for days after he fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, on Feb. 26.

Oliver, who appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Sunday alongside Zimmerman’s lawyer, Craig Sonner, said Zimmerman initially thought the incident would “blow over,” but is now in hiding and fears for his life.

It was a simply-reported story. It appeared that the Daily News took two sources, ABC News and an AP wire story, and combined the information into a longer peice. But Zimmerman’s background is a story no one else is reporting. As of 2 p.m. on March 25, this was the only story of its kind to show up on Google News.

Kudos to the Daily News for attempting to provide balance to this news event, even if the story isn’t the shining example of shoe-leather reporting. After all, Zimmerman is still innocent in the eyes of the law; he hasn’t even been arrested yet.

The reporting on Zimmerman is still not complete. I would like to know Zimmerman’s background and attitude with firearms. Was he a responsible gun owner, or was owning a gun romanticized with stories of self-defense and so he was eager to pull his 9mm out?

The story hints at a interesting relationship with Zimmerman and guns.

Zimmerman has had trouble with the law in the past.

In 2005, he was arrested for battery on a law enforcement officer for pushing an ATF agent, but charges were later dropped.

Whether or not that had to do with firearms, the story did not say.

I encourage you to go look at the story in full. The story conveys its full message through multimedia because Zimmerman’s friend, Oliver, is black. That fact is never verbalized in the story but shown through a photo. The fact that Oliver’s race was shown instead of told shows how sensitive the subject of race is in reporting.

I suspect that media is shying away from Zimmerman’s side of the story because an article strongly casting doubt on Zimmerman’s guilt would appear to defend a man who could be charged with a hate crime.

Permanent link to this article: http://thewashingtonjournalismcenter.com/?p=3967

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