Episode #31: A personal experience with moral unethical behavior in journalism

The situation went something like this: I had an important game with my club team on on Wednesday, one which I didn’t even really want to play because it was against a team that we knew we were going to lose to. As I was preparing for this game my mom calls me and tells me that I need to go home because my grandfather just died.

Still in shock, I changed the course of my preparation from going to a game to going to drive to Cakovec where my mom was. The first thing I did actually was call my coach and tell him that I couldn’t come to the game under the circumstances and I was leaving town for a few days.

The following evening, as I was lying in bed about to go to sleep, I got a text message from a friend saying “I saw the article in the newspaper and I’m sorry about your grandfather”, and although the condolences were thoughtful I couldn’t help but latch on to the part where she said that she saw it in the daily papers. This was odd because we purposely did not publish my grandfather’s death anywhere, not in the local newspaper and definitely not in the national one.

A little bit dumbfounded I asked her where exactly she saw this, and it turns out that there was an article written in Vecernji List  about the game which my Dinamo team lost, but the subheading stated “Helenna Moulton could not help her team because of the death of her grandfather”. The rest of the article just stated that Dinamo lost the game and again mention that I was not present because of a death in my family.

Now, although I already had my suspicions of who might have published something like this, the first thing that bothered me was not only that my privacy was obstructed because I gave no one permission to write about my family’s business, but also I could not help but to wonder WHO CARES about the specific reasoning as to why I could not attend this game. This refers back to journalism in Croatia (which is what I am studying ironically enough) which tends to write and publish articles of very low quality because they lack news value. This was published in a national, daily newspaper… not even a tabloid which might then make more sense for this kind of content. Furthermore, neither am I a public figure which would mean that my presence was widely noticed or important, nor is it necessary to use my private life as an excuse to why my team did not do well in this game.

I am not saying that I am the star and they lost the game because I wasn’t there, because that is not the case, but when I re-read this article I realized that there was absolutely no news value in the text other than maybe the score of the game.

I was baffled by the idiocracy, and irritated tremendously. It’s hard to believe that someone would find this information about me worthy of publishing. As a family we did not publish my grandfather’s death so I’m not sure why someone from my club would get the idea that it is ok to send that to the newspapers themselves.

This kind of behavior might not be punishable by law, but it is definitely breaking the moral journalistic ethics behind publishing information about someone’s privacy.