A serious accident at the Journal Star resulted in the loss of a man’s leg. The incident occurred Dec. 21, and an investigation by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration remains ongoing.
Journalists were ordered not to report on the incident.
According to a police report, the 60-year-old victim was pinned by a fork lift operated by a 47-year-old man who fled the scene.
The victim was transported by ambulance of OSF Saint Francis hospital. The police report indicates the victim underwent surgery in an attempt to save the leg. Circulation was weak and the leg eventually had to be amputated.
Following is an analysis of the incident and the paper’s failure to report on it written by the retired head of the journalism department at a major university:
“When someone is run over or pinned by a fork lift at a work place such as a press room or newspaper warehouse, that’s news, especially when the injury is major. It is a rare, grisly and tragic event. When the forklift operator flees the scene and does not return, that’s double news. When the employer has hired relatively inexperienced crew members for the shop as a cost-cutting measure, that’s triple news.
“Newspapers often report on their internal problems, not always, but news judgment often overrules other considerations, and they cover their own news even when it is bad. This is good journalism.
“The Journal Star’s news staff must recognize this incident is newsworthy, thus some strong incentive must be keeping the paper so far from reporting on it. One reason might be a “dirty linen” reaction. More likely the reason is concern about a possible lawsuit, or the scope of a suit, and uncertainty as to whether reported facts might encourage a suit or provide ammunition for one. Legal considerations are also financial ones. If the paper has hired green pressroom workers to control costs, then similar financial considerations might spur it to hide the incident in an effort to reduce legal costs that might develop.
“For all we know, the paper’s staff might want to do the reporting, but the corporate office has asked them not to. I can’t blame either the paper or the company office for being concerned, but the story is going to come out eventually. As a result, they might consider being proactive by getting out in front of it. The reports do not have to be run on page one. Such reports would be forthright journalism, yet routine at the same time.
“The paper has a right not to run reports, so the question here is whether they are lowering their standards, or whether they have so far made a wrong decision in terms of their long-term interests.
“To me this incident is part of an even bigger story: problems newspapers face as they try to remain financially healthy in the age of the internet.”