Media Stakeout

When news about the murder of Nick Berg (search) occurred, everyone in the media raced to the family home in West Chester, Pa. We all wanted to get you as much news as possible and as quickly as possible.

We "drafted" a staff member for the job, which few in any news organization find enjoyable. It is not "fun" to camp out on a family's lawn in the midst of their broken hearts. But, this is the news business and we do our best to collect news -- and yes, in the process of collecting news, we do try and use judgment and give the families some room to grieve. In some instances, the families welcome us. They want to tell their story. They want the world to know about their loved one. From comments made by Nick Berg's sister in at least one sound-bite that I heard, I don't think the Berg family wanted the media around as they grieve.

Our show sent a member of our staff. I asked her to send me a rough draft e-mail about what she saw so that we could try and take you "behind the scenes." She sent me a quick note. Here it is:

“Estate Drive is a small suburban middle class neighborhood in West Chester, Pa, where the typical daily activities include kids riding bikes, people working on their lawns and neighbors waving to each other and stopping to say hello when they pass each other driving or walking down the street. Many of its inhabitants have lived on this street for twenty years or more, keep their homes in mint condition and raise families here.

“When news broke of the death of Nick Berg, this suburban neighborhood became a spot of national and international interest. This quiet neighborhood suddenly was not only struck with sadness, but they were also bombarded with numerous news trucks and reporters. Instead of birds chirping, the sounds of the street echoed news truck generators. Views that once showed the house across the street now were blocked by big white trucks with news logos. The once quiet road became filled with reporters, truck ops, camera men, audio guys and producers hanging around waiting for some sort of action to come from the Berg home. "Action" included the local florist delivering flowers throughout the day to the home, a candlelight vigil organized by the neighbors on Tuesday night, a Wednesday night candlelight vigil and subsequent visit to the family by some of Michael Berg's former students. "Action" also included Nick's sister Sara taking her red convertible car out and driving down the street to an unknown location returning an hour later, and occasional visits from city representatives, family friends and a funeral home director. "Action" was usually documented by the media in their updated reports, by one of the many photographers or by the actual visitor making a statement or doing interviews right after they met with the family.

“As for the family, they pretty much stayed in seclusion. Occasionally it was possible to get a glimpse of Michael Berg (Nick's father) when he would open the door to let a visitor in or to receive a floral arrangement, or one would see Sara and her brother David come in and out of the house to run an errand. For the most part Michael, David and Sara would ignore the media when they stepped out of the home and go about their business. Business included Sara getting the mail at the end of the driveway ( walking briskly with her head down toward the mailbox (toward the media) and leisurely sauntering back towards the home (away from the spotlight) while flipping through the various letters) or her stepping out of the house to collect all of the condolence cards off the flower arrangements that by Wednesday afternoon were collecting on the Berg front lawn. Most of the time they would ignore the media and the media in return would ignore them and just take pictures from the road of them, but there were those few and far between times that there was some interaction, where the media would call out to them when they were entering the home and they would return the advances by saying they were not going to speak to the press.

“There were three occasions (which I personally witnessed) of the family actually acknowledging the media's presence. The first occasion was when David came out looking for a NY Times Reporter to correct something in her report that the family had read about. Of course, as soon as the reporter was done with this brief encounter, she too became a part of the story and now had to answer to everyone with cameras pointed at her. The second occasion was when a producer and camera man from a network were standing on their driveway when David was outside and the producer called out to David for him to say something and when he said no, the producer threw his arms down seeming annoyed that he could not get him to say anything. David
responded by telling him to get off his driveway. As the producer did not move right away, David started to walk towards him and the producer backed down and David turned around to go back in the house. The last occasion occurred Wednesday night, the last night we were there, actually a couple of minutes before our show and the 10 p.m. news for all of the affiliates and local news. Michael Berg emerged from his house and told everyone to turn the generators off.

“Overall the neighborhood was very kind to the media attention. One neighbor even went as far as to come out with some ice water to give to the people from the news on an extremely hot day. After school, some neighborhood kids came home and included selling the media drinks from their refrigerator's as part of their new daily after school functions. The media in turn respected these neighbor's privacy the best they could and did not bother them when they would travel in and out of their homes. Not everything was peachy keen though, there were some neighbors that seemed displeased, some of the kids showed the displeasure by screaming out their screen doors for the media to go away and on one occasion a neighbor brushed a radio reporter with her car to move him out of the way.”

On a light note, and to see who really does read the ENTIRE blog and watches the ENTIRE show regularly and carefully, here is a new contest: Be the first to write me and tell me what subtle change we made to “On the Record” recently. You had to look real close and you have to be a regular viewer to catch it (and no, it is not the weather bug. That's two months old!) The first night of the change was on Wednesday and the second was last night -- Thursday. It is subtle, I admit, but a change. E-mail me your answer and I will send the winner -- the first one to correctly e-mail me -- an “On the Record” jean jacket. There IS a specific answer I am looking for and it relates to the program -- so don't write me and tell me that I am parting my hair differently.


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