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Covering Deadly NASCAR Crash is Challenging for Media, Writes Prof. Jeff McCall '76

August 12, 2014

"There is just no easy way to cover the story about the dirt track racing death of Kevin Ward Jr. over the weekend," writes Jeff McCall, professor of communication at DePauw University, in a newspaper column. "Notice that the lead sentence of this column included the name of the deceased and not the name of the famous race car champion, Tony Stewart. The media want to make Stewart the focus of the story, but the story needs to be about more than a high-profile NASCAR driver."

Dr. McCall, a former journalist and author of the book Viewer Discretion Advised: Taking Control of Mass Media Influences, notes, "The best approach for media coverage of this accident is to go slowly. Less is more. Report established facts. Avoid speculation. Don’t hurry the story. And it’s OK if the story sits for periods of time with no new updates. This is an important story for the racing world, but it has nothing to do with world peace or a slow economy."

In the professor's view, "The majority of the media coverage has been restrained, guarded, and factual. Television outlets have been generally cautious with the video of the accident, and now it’s time to file it away. Anybody interested in this story has already seen it. A weakness in some media reports has been to try to connect Stewart’s previous racing history, which has included some heated moments, with the dirt track accident in New York on Saturday. Such context is overly speculative. No one can possibly know if prior incidents had anything to do with Saturday’s situation."

McCall also sees flaws in media reports that use interviews from fans who have no role in the investigation and no real expertise.

He concludes, "The social media have been lit up with pro-Stewart and anti-Stewart voices engaging in heated dialogues. That’s fine for social media, but rehashing it in the institutionalmccall fox june2009 2 press is not helpful. Ultimately, whether this accident was Ward’s fault or Stewart’s fault or the fault of both of them, the reporting world should try to guide its audience with more facts and less emotion."

You'll find the complete column at the website of the Indianapolis Star.

A 1976 graduate of DePauw, Jeffrey M. McCall is regularly called upon to discuss media matters in major publications and has been cited in more than 100 newspapers.  He recently talked with the Los Angeles Times about TV's Duck Dynasty and was quoted in an Arizona Republic feature.  The professor has appeared a dozen times on Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor.

Source: Indianapolis Star

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