Sentinel reporter visits UCF journalism students

Orlando Sentinel breaking news/criminal justice reporter Bianca Prieto spoke to about 40 print and broadcast journalism students on Jan. 31 about the ethics of covering tragic events. DSC_0273

The meeting was a joint workshop put on by the Nicholson School of Communication’s chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA). The leaders of the two chapters wanted to hold a workshop to help prepare their peers for the toughest part of being a journalist – covering tragic events such as the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. In addition to regularly writing about murders and other serious crimes, Prieto covered the Gateway Center office tower shooting in downtown Orlando in 2009. Prieto was invited to campus by SPJ advisor and journalism instructor Rick Brunson, who also works at the Orlando Sentinel part-time as a production editor.

Journalism student and SPJ member Emon Reiser attended the workshop and filed this report:

I attended Bianca Prieto’s event eager to hear what she had to say about the recent tragic events at Newtown, which had been weighing heavily on my mind. The room filled up soon after I got there, and I was excited to see that other student journalists did not shy away from the ethical discussion of covering tragedies.

I wondered how any reporter could handle the emotions of repeatedly covering death and traumatic events. Prieto lives it. During her hour-long talk, she provided solid knowledge from her experience covering breaking news for the Orlando Sentinel. But most of all, she provided comfort.

She stressed that we are human and have a job to do, but we must put ourselves in our subject’s shoes. In order to ask the right questions and express the right amount of empathy, Prieto suggested that we imagine it was our loved one. By putting ourselves in their shoes, Prieto said that we will not only get our story, but we’ll build trust with the people we cover.

I asked if Prieto got a chance to check up on those she had interviewed and was surprised and touched when she responded “all the time” — this coming from a woman who covers multiple murders and deaths a day in Orlando (in addition to updating the weather). She said she had built such a great relationship with one father whose son was shot to death, that he allowed her access to his son’s murder scene while she was covering the crime. Other media members did not get such access.

I had no doubt that Prieto has the trust of the community. She has built a solid reputation with the people whose stories she tells and with local officials. It was comforting when she told us that in breaking news, it cannot be expected that everything will be right the first time it’s reported, but we must always do everything in our power to get it right and correct our mistakes. She said getting a story wrong was her greatest fear.

Following Ms. Prieto’s talk an Orlando Police Department homicide detective spoke up to say that he had driven out of his way to UCF just to see Prieto’s presentation. He affirmed her stalwart reputation as a tough, fair, ethical, responsible journalist. “If you want to do this job, if you want to be a reporter – follow this woman’s example. Be Bianca,’’ said Detective Michael Moreschi.

Later on when I tweeted about the presentation, Mark Joyella, a news anchor and reporter at WFTV Channel 9 Eyewitness News, also joined in to praise Ms. Prieto, stating she is “the real deal.”

I emailed Ms. Prieto later on to ask her about a brief discussion we had after her presentation and she was gracious enough to answer it. I’m hoping she will visit UCF again in the near future. It’s no doubt she is indeed “the real deal.”

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