Media Ethics in Carson City

Since I mentioned Dave Morgan in my last post, I should also mention the kerfuffle that he caused over at the Nevada Appeal. But first the backstory. On Monday night a Carson City resident was riding home on his ATV when he took a shortcut through an NDOT drainage ditch by the new freeway. It was nighttime, so he didn’t know that NDOT had installed a new barbed wire fence across the ditch. He went through the fence, and was killed immediately. Tragic story, but sadly death is a pretty common thing in the newspapers.

Dave Morgan, who runs a local newscast on channel 18 (Carson City cable only), was on hand to get video footage of the accident scene the morning after it happened. Local officials were investigating the scene, and he filmed them walking around and loading the body to be taken to the morgue. Then he broadcast the footage on his newscast, and put it up on his companion website. You can watch the streaming video (with a graphic content warning) here.

Normally that would have been the end of it; life goes on for everyone except those who knew the victim. But on Thursday the Nevada Appeal Editorial Board decided to call out Dave Morgan for showing the accident scene on his newscast and website.

The Appeal chose not to run any photos of the victim at the scene, out of sensitivity to the friends and family of the victim.

Unfortunately, not everyone feels that way. The video from the grisly accident scene is available on a Web site that also covers Carson City news.

We don’t question that it will get plenty of visits from the curious, and that’s what the photographer intended. But just because we can publish something doesn’t mean that we should.

They never mentioned Dave or News Carson City by name, but if you’re familiar with the limited selection of media outlets in Carson City, it wasn’t very hard to figure out who they were talking about. It’s not often that one media organization will take another one to task for ethics judgements like this, and it’s really rare in a one-newspaper town like Carson City. And besides that, I watched the video, and I didn’t see anything particularly grisly. Just some wide shots of the ATV, and officials carrying a body bag on a gurney. It wasn’t until later that someone pointed out what I couldn’t see through the pixelated web video: in some of the wide shots, the body is still seated on the ATV.

But then the real “fun” started, in the Nevada Appeal’s comments. Someone said the Nevada Appeal was just jealous that Dave scooped them with pictures of the scene. Someone else called Dave Morgan an ambulance chaser and “video vulture…who probably sleeps with a police scanner so he can leap into all community tragedies.” Some said that it was fair to put those pictures in as part of a news report, others called it profiting at the expense of the family and “death for entertainment purposes.” A total of 23 comments in all, which is a lot for the Appeal.

And then Dave himself posted an editorial on his site decrying the fact that the controversy over his pictures had overshadowed the story itself. And so to try to kill the controversy he re-edited the video and blurred out the wide shots of the ATV. Whether it will appease those who were attacking him, or frustrate those who said he shouldn’t compromise, I don’t know. But I do agree that the story about the story has become bigger than the story itself. I mean, just look at this post. I didn’t cover the ATV accident, but here I am covering the aftermath. Case proven.

So here’s my attempt to get the story back on track. I didn’t know the victim, Lester Paul, Jr, but there’s a chance some of you readers did. If anyone did know him and wants to say something in his memory, just leave a comment.


  1. Dave’s newscasts are particularly useful to me as I watch what’s going on in Carson City. You two both often give me better news faster than anyone else in Northern Nevada, as relates to Carson City anyway. My biggest problem with Dave is that he never edits out his last inhalation from the soundtrack. While his titling and camera work are remniscent of the old KAME-21 10 O’Clock News, it’s the lack of that one simple edit that makes me groan every time.

  2. I think it’s interesting that the Nevada Appeal appointed itself the expert on media ethics. The newspaper’s “sensitivity” to the family gets lost in its holier-than-thou attitude regarding another news outlet. Hmmm, a newspaper criticizing someone’s First Amendment rights?

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