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YOUR VIEW: Highway 54 Crash Coverage

Posted: Mar 23, 2013 6:56 PM by Kerry Leary and Jake Schlegel
Updated: Mar 25, 2013 9:42 PM

Rating: 0.0 (0 votes)

JEFFERSON CITY – Earlier this month, a car accident took the life of one woman and severely injured another passenger after a pick up truck went the wrong way on Highway 54 in Jefferson City. Immediately after hearing about the fatal accident, KOMU 8 News sent a reporter to the scene to get information and footage of the crash that happened shortly before 10 p.m. on March 6, 2013.

KOMU 8 News posted a web story that night with basic information, including, “Jefferson City Police Sergeant Doug Ruediger says his department received a call shortly before 10p.m. that a white Ford Ranger pickup truck was going the opposite direction on Highway 54. According to Jefferson City Police, the driver collided with another vehicle driving in the southbound lane.”

KOMU 8 News updated the web story after hearing that a 19-year-old woman was pronounced dead at the scene. The web story then included the most recent information about the woman and the passenger in her car.

The next morning, KOMU 8 News Today began coverage on the crash, noting, “a young woman died over night after being hit by a wrong way driver on Highway 54. Jefferson City Police say a man in a white Ford Ranger pick-up was driving North in a southbound lane on the highway when he collided with another vehicle. Authorities pronounced the 19-year-old woman dead at the scene and the passenger in her car was airlifted to University Hospital and remains in critical condition. The wrong way driver was taken to a local hospital with minor injuries. Police say they have reason to believe alcohol was involved.” The coverage continued throughout March 7, 2013, with the same information.

One viewer sent an email to KOMU 8 News, concerned about the lack of detail in our story. A viewer named Mary noted, “In tonight's news, regarding the Highway 54 crash, no location, except Highway 54 was given. I looked the news story up on the internet to find out what town or city, which was Jefferson City at Route 179 and 54. More details should be given on the news report, as Hwy 54 goes a long distance through Missouri.”

In this Your View, we spoke with KOMU News’ News Director Stacey Woelfel about our coverage, who agrees with Mary. “We did a pretty bad job on that one. The story just wasn’t complete. It didn’t even say what county it happened in, much less what city or intersection,” Woelfel said. “So I think the viewers have the right to expect the five W’s, who, what, when, where, why when they watch the news, and we didn’t get all five of them there. We got about three of them, it looks like.”

We also spoke with Missouri Journalism Management Instructor Mike Dunn about our coverage. He says it’s only necessary to give a more precise location of an accident if the wreckage hasn’t been cleared yet. “Is the potential there that I could hit a car off the side of the road? Are there vehicles there, police? Is it still there? Or has everything been cleared?” Dunn said. “I think that’s a critical difference, because if everything has been cleared, I’m not sure it makes that much of a difference.”

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