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Fox9's Van Pilsum: Edina officials, media critics got 'cruising' story wrong

Had a lengthy debrief Wednesday afternoon with Fox9 reporter Trish Van Pilsum, who provided her side of the "child-luring" story I ripped earlier in the day.

To recap:

Last week, there was an alleged attempted child abduction in Edina. Tuesday, based on information from the city's police, the Edina school emailed parents that a Fox9 crew "will be driving around Edina neighborhoods between 2:00-4:30 p.m. today to 'ask children for directions.' ... the reporter, Trish Van Pilsim [sic] will be driving a 2004 silver Ford Explorer or Expedition."

Outraged parents emailed the media, and critics such as yours truly ripped Fox9 as even more debased than thought possible.

Van Pilsum says we got it flat wrong. She says Fox9 never cruised Edina's streets, as MPR's Jeff Horwich wrote when the story broke late Tuesday afternoon. She also disputes the notion that Fox9 "pulled the story" after public complaints; she says her team had its own doubts and nixed the idea long before the schools' email became public.

Finally, she demands a correction from me, for reinforcing the error that she actually cruised the streets and for being baffled by the station's claim that they'd contact parents first. I can't give her satisfaction — my original piece included the station's position that the cruising never occurred, and I still can't imagine how the parental notification would work. (As you'll soon see, Fox9 had trouble with this, too.)

That said, I agree with another Van Pilsum criticism: that I failed as a reporter for relying on Fox9's vague official statement and the Strib's distillation of Fox9's position. I shouldn't have stopped at the corporate stiff-arm — especially after ripping the station as "amoral" and labeling explanations "inane." While I still find the idea hare-brained and question its rollout, I owe Van Pilsum a fuller airing.

Parents' idea
Van Pilsum's version begins with a head-snapper. The idea that seems so clueless to many a parent — ride around in an unmarked car seeing if kids would talk to strangers — actually came from Edina parents, she says.

Before the SUV idea was floated, Van Pilsum says Fox9 had already talked to kids in the city's parks. Parental pre-approval was mandatory, she insists, explaining it this way: "You simply walk up to parents, say 'I'm with Channel 9 doing a story on some recent incidents, and we're trying to see how kids will respond to strangers.'"

She contends that "99 percent" of the parents said yes because even though they think their kids "are rock-solid, they won't go with you," they craved a controlled test. "And parents were grateful," she adds.

But some felt the park effort "wasn't really a test," Van Pilsum continues. Parents told her, "'You're in the park, you look like one of us, you talked to us first — you should try driving around.'"

Van Pilsum said she then reached out to community "stakeholders," including police. "When I'm confronted with difficult things, I weigh the good the story can accomplish and whatever harm of problems that can occur. To do that, I need to talk to the stakeholders. I'd already talked to some parents who felt like [the SUV test] would be compelling."

She first approached police public information officer Molly Anderson Tuesday morning. Van Pilsum acknowledges Anderson did not endorse the idea. There were two conversations with Edina deputy police chief Jeff Long, who, Van Pilsum says, ended by stating the child-luring incident was "just too fresh" for Fox9's plan to go forward.

Who makes the call?

By this time, Van Pilsum says she and her crew were having second thoughts. As noted, Horwich and I were both boggled by how Fox9 could get parental approval before a drive-by. Van Pilsum admits the scenarios seemed far-fetched.

"Maybe you'd have kids in the front yard, parents in the backyard," she muses. "It was clearly becoming really cumbersome from our standpoint."

Around 11:30 a.m., while the Fox crew was pondering, Anderson alerted Edina schools officials. In turn, community education director Doug Johnson sent this email to parents:

Molly Anderson of the Edina Police Department just informed me that KMSP Fox 9 will be driving around Edina neighborhoods between 2:00-4:30 p.m. today to “ask children for directions.” She indicated that the reporter, Trish Van Pilsim [sic] will be driving a 2004 silver Ford Explorer or Expedition.

The police indicated while there is nothing illegal with this, they do not endorse this activity.

Please remind our children that they are not to speak with strangers. They should walk, and if necessary, run away from a vehicle if they are asked to get into the car, the car follows, them, etc. They should seek out an adult they know, go to a house they are familiar with, etc. Safety first!

We are disappointed that the media would use children in this manner.

Van Pilsum says the email was needlessly alarmist and clearly inaccurate. She insists the drive-by was never portrayed as a sure thing, but Anderson's email made it seem like a certainty.

[Update: Van Pilsum says she was speaking about the school district public information person, not Anderson.]

"To me, the big problem was that [the public info officer] sends out an alert to the school without checking with us," Van Pilsum says. "She sends out a panicked email about something that was not going to happen."

Van Pilsum says the schools should've checked with the station before their email blast. District officials relied on the cops — who were never told the idea had been nixed.

Van Pilsum acknowledges Fox9 hadn't killed the idea when the police email went out. In a MinnPost comment, she says the decision was made "hours before school officials sent parents the inaccurate information," but did not call police to tell them.

Should Anderson have called the reporter instead? Consider the department's perspective:

Days after an ultra-scary child-luring allegation, a TV crew comes into City Hall one morning proposing to replay similar circumstances that afternoon. Two city officials, in three conversations, say it's a dumb idea. It's nearing lunchtime — a couple of hours from "go" time — and no one's told you the idea is dead. So you err on the side of caution, and let your constituents know.

Anderson would not answer questions about the incident. However, she forwarded Edina Police Chief Mike Siitari's official statement, which pointedly disputes Van Pilsum's contention that the drive-by was presented as mere possibility:

The information we put out was accurate and was provided by Fox 9 to us. Our Deputy Chief called to advise them after the initial call that this was an ill-advised idea. At no point did they tell us this was only a plan.

So whether it's poor communication or an about face by Fox 9 after the email went out and angry parents called in, I do not know. But we put out accurate information, we stand by our actions. We think we did the right thing in notifying the community, particularly after the previous incidents.

Permission slip
Neither the schools nor police statement mention parental permission. Fox9's statement says this was clearly part of the deal:

For the past week, FOX 9 News has discussed several ways to drive home the importance of teaching children to be safe around strangers. FOX 9 News informed Edina police about the possibility of pursuing an investigative report on how youngsters responded when asked directions from strangers, and that parental permission would be obtained before talking to any children.

Edina police erroneously alerted the school system that the station was going ahead with the story. After being contacted by FOX 9 and told otherwise, the Edina public schools sent a second e-mail to parents saying that no such story was being planned.

That last sentence is inaccurate. The schools email (reprinted in full below) says the story was "pulled" — even Van Pilsum admits a plan was at least floated. However, the schools leave responsibility for the parent permission dispute in police hands:

Update on possible FOX 9 story:

Please note that reporter Trish Van Pilsim [sic] contacted Jolene Goldade, EPS Communications Manager and indicated that the FOX 9 story that I referred to in my last email to you [has] been pulled.

The station received numerous complaints about the story. Ms. Van Pilsim indicated to Jolene we misrepresented [what] they were actually doing. Ms Van Pilsim stated that she was going to be asking parents permission prior to any contact with children. Information that we received from police did not indicate this method was going to be used.

I did speak personally with Molly Anderson of the Edina Police Department who shared with me that she had informed Ms. Van Pilsim that the Department would not endorse this type of activity.

Our communication to you was in direct response to the information that we received from the Edina Police. We work closely with them to help create and maintain a community that has the safety and well-being of children as a top priority. If more information becomes available, I will pass it along.

What are we left with?
Despite the pullback, Van Pilsum still believes her story was "responsible" and "important," part of decades-long work promoting child safety. It's she why carefully weighed the plusses and minuses and opted out, and why she objects so strongly to the "amoral" label.

"No reporter — no one — has done more for child safety than me," she states.

Van Pilsum adds that she was "shocked" by the outcry over testing kids' ability to follow parental instruction, calling it "a very commonly done story" both at the local and network level. [Update: Van Pilsum says she was shocked by people complaining about something she hadn't done.]

"It was done years ago when I was at WCCO, at the Mall of America — with parents' permission," she notes.

But when pressed, Van Pilsum admits she can't think of an example where the faux luring involved cruising public streets, a tactic that still strikes me as so absurd I can't believe a news director let it out of the building.

And while the question of parental notification may fairly be labeled she-said/she-said, this risky approach shouldn't have even been a same-day possibility. Van Pilsum clearly gave the police a heads-up, but not much of one, escalating the possibility that the suburb's emotional tinderbox would explode.

But Van Pilsum wasn't the only media member with explaining to do.

Horwich, making an incorrect assumption from the schools' initial email, wrote, "evidently the KMSP news-cruiser/pedophile-mobile was out this afternoon," when there was no evidence it was. While he diligently tried to get the station's comments, and asked some great questions in follow-up reports, his match hit the tinderbox prematurely.

Given my own "holier-than-thou," I had a moral duty to do more reporting and add to the record, not cannibalize it. For that, I apologize, Trish.

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Comments (42)

There was a day, long ago, when Van Pilsum was a fine reporter - when she worked at the Minnesota Daily in college. But TV news is where reporters' integrity goes to die, and that's what happened to Trish she she went the broadcast route. She has reported any number of stupid stories that make her look like an idiot. I remember one stunt she did for FOX where she was supposed to show what it was like for a driver when his or her car went through the ice in the winter. They set up this elaborate safety procedure, with divers on hand, etc, but when Trish drove her car into the ice she hopped out the open window before any of the car actually went down! And what's with the black leather outfits that Fox dresses her in?

A nice run-down of the miscommunication that sprang from the kernel of a pretty poor idea.

Everyone's heart was in the right place (nobody was amoral), but people put the cart before the horse. Fox9 should have thought through their idea before they started contacting the community and floating the possibilities of drive-by journalism. The folks in the community should have made contact with Fox9 and gotten confirmation before sending out needlessly alarmist emails.

It took some effort to straighten out this tangled story, from misconception to miscommunication to misrepresentation. But I think you got it right. And I am especially impressed with the straightforward, sincere and self effacing apology at the end. Good on you!

I do think one take-away from this is the fact that making news used to be like making hot dogs. No one really wanted to see the process.

Today, the process often scoops the story. Interview subjects have blogs and Twitter accounts, e-mails get forwarded quickly, and news organizations need to think about that.

I do think, though, that the people have to understand that the process of making news and coming up with stories involves lots of brainstorming and lots of ideas that aren't very good. Just like the process of running a business or operating a blog involves lots of stupid ideas. If we as a people refuse to allow that process to take place, I think the quality of journalism goes down.

Should have checked into it a little more before you starting typing away like you had the story pegged.

question for Jason DeRusha....TV stations MAKE news? Maybe this is why I don't watch 'the news' on TV anymore.

This idea was *almost* as stupid as doing a "comedy skit" around rape.


So, how many registered or unregistered pedophiles will be painting their vans silver, like a fox?

How many who privately own silver vans or silver Ford Explorers in Edina, will be selling theirs?

Will there be a run on 911 calls every time someone sees a silver van, Explorer etc?

A bad story has its unintended, but attendant entrails.

Correct me if I'm wrong. Didn't John Quinones of 20/20 "What Would You Do?" have a segment like the child luring one? And wasn't a vehicle involved?

A first-name-basis apology! My, the blogosphere is a cozy place. But let's review.

Trish Van Pilsum yesterday called your original post "riddled with errors," while offering no evidence that this was so. Her comments reported in today's post don't do the job either...though they do raise more questions.

The claim that the story was suggested by "some" parents Van Pilsum met in a park...even if irrelevent. Since when do we excuse irresponsible journalism on the grounds that it is giving the public what it wants?

Van Pilsum maintains the story would have been "responsible" and "important." If so, then why the "second thoughts?" And what were they? Were there concerns about creating a situation involving children and traffic at close quarters? Were they worried about traumatizing young kids? Did anyone consider the possibility of inpsiring a copycat M.O. in which a real offender might pose as a reporter? Van Pilsum doesn't explain why they called everything off, other than to imply that the whole parental permission thing was starting to look like a pain.

And there remains the puzzling matter of how it was that the police could provide an exact date, time, and place that the story was to be reported..unless they got the info from KMSP, which failed to inform law enforcement and school officials that the story was not going forward.

So Van Pilsum's side of the story doesn't really make KMSP look any better...which renders your apology to her for not getting it yesterday deliciously ironic.

Yes, Jason, there's a lot of kicking around of unformed ideas in many professions. But when you reach outside your own walls and, in this case, contact the police with THAT sort of a heads up, you've left the realm of spitballing and entered the world of actualization.

Aside from such an inane and liability-riddled idea even being entertained after it was unreflectively blurted out, that's where FOX9's mistake occurred. If you're still just blue skying, as they contend, then keep it in house. When you've got a well thought out plan of action, then consult the police. And when they tell you to revisit your idea because it is an unworkable self-serving ratings ploy, believe 'em.

What FOX9 should've done is contact a sociologist, or even a sociology major, who would have told them their contemplated "experiment" was nothing more than empty fear mongering (something we in the TV news biz LOVE) and would've shown nothing of any definitive results and value to their viewers.

All that said, I'm afraid this buttresses the knock against blogs, the pressure to post SOMETHING, ANYTHING to feed the bulldog before it shows up on some other blog. I guess you could say we got to witness the reporting process in real time yesterday. but, unfortunately, it also involved publishing. And everybody ended up covered in mud.

It's a lot like what those of us who work in cable news fall prey to, going with what you've got because the technology insists on being fed. For us, it's usually fed by spectacular, context-free images, and the ungovernable need to be first, even if it's first with precious little in the way of substance.

In any case, it should be resisted.

I am sorry. I don't watch local news anymore. I get everything off my Blackberry

I see a donation link above that says "Support high-quality journalism" I hope proceeds don't go to this story or the author. Way to report on a report, sorry in accurate report. I also noticed that this was not the lead story on the web page unlike its first draft that went out of the way to rip fox 9. Again thanks for the "high-quality journalism".

#3: Jason: Have you ever done anything this high-wire? That 'burb was totally on edge. Would 'CCO?

#4 - Brian: you're right.

#12 - Joe: when you make a mistake, it's no fun to admit it, but doing so publicly and responsibly at least assures readers you seek to keep their trust.

Obviously, though, readers expecting high-quality journalism have every right to have their own high bar, especially for a media critic.

That said, I don't want to overdramatize the error. I don't regard the original piece as inaccurate, but wish I'd made the extra call to Van Pilsum for a fuller story.

The police department and the school managed this crisis well.

It sounded to the police like the station was going to go forward. They made an extra call to express disapproval and didn't hear a cancellation.

Knowing that, given the first amendment and all, they couldn't be sure to stop the story, they informed their constituents as best they could.

And in the end, their constituents -- parents and the community -- were appropriately concerned and motivated to take action.

Well done.

I can't speak for WCCO and what the station would do, and I don't really want to judge what Fox was trying to do. My point was twofold:

1) News organziations need to be aware that the process is becoming public information. So we have to make sure our methods and ideas pass muster.

2) The thought police has the potential to chill edgy and good story ideas, if people are going to get hammered for having a bad idea. (This was a general statement-- not an intent to defend the Fox idea.)

I have seen many stories over the years by news organizations trying to lure children (with parental permission ahead of time) and they're extremely effective. They are shocking. The best part of the story is the parent interview ahead of time saying, "There's no way my Johnny would go with a stranger." And then Johnny goes with the stranger.

That said, I would never consider trying to lure a kid without prior parental permission. I would never do it getting permission AFTER the fact. Frankly, I would have a problem doing it at all. It's just not within my personal comfort zone.

Jason (#15) -- One hopes you are not equating "effective" and "shocking" in evaluating journalistic value or ethics. There are many entrapment stories that are shocking and happen all too often in both broadcast and print media. That doesn't make them worthwhile or even defensible pieces of journalism. And, it is not the KMSP process that is at question here. It is KMSP's intent. Looking at all the evidence, it seems there is little question that KMSP intended to do a story in which it tested whether it could lure children to engage with a stranger in a car. The story was stopped not because KMSP thought better of it, but because of public outrage. Certainly, the media have to be aggressive and creative in pursuing the news and that sometimes will involve "edgy" ideas that aren't pursued. That is not what happened in this instance. KMSP was willing to exploit children for no purpose other than to gain ratings. That is lousy journalism, lousy public service and very effective public reaction. The story was not killed by the "thought police," but by outraged parents, a local police department that communicated effectively with the school district and a school district that rightly put parents on alert that their children could be subjected to a confrontation that at least would have confused them and potentially could have frightened them. The only ones who failed their duty in this matter is KMSP. Further, the airing of this episode -- as much as it rightly embarrasses KMSP -- is outstanding journalism. In retrospect, some things could have been framed differently and some information could have been presented earlier. But to expose all this public scrutiny is one of the things the new media (including MPR and its use of new media) do best.

" - A Thoughtful Approach to News". I admit being intrigued by the 'brand promise', but wonder if the promise is at odds with the medium?

What is missing here is a little perspective. Fox9 was apparently considering doing this story the day after Edina police had informed the community and the school district that the suspect in the case had been released. I did a story for WCCO-TV that very day - Monday. I talked at length off camera with the mother of one of the young girls who was approached as well as on camera with other members of the community. Everywere in Edina Monday parents were telling their kids, "remember the guy we told you was in jail, well guess what - he's out"! Adding to the tension was the news that I reported on Monday that the Edina police now believe 4 children, not two were approached by this man. In my interview Monday with Chief Mike Siitari he said he is convinced this suspect will be charged eventually.
Needless to say everyone from the Chief to parents I spoke with on Monday was on edge.

The very next day, Tuesday came the fast breaking developments in Reportergate featuring Trish Van Pilsum arguably one of the best reporters in the Twin Cities. Trish has done outstanding work on child safety issues. I remember a child luring story she did years ago that contained some of the same elements of "let's see what kids will say when approached by a stranger".But with a police department and a community on a razors edge of fear and anger at the lack of charges, it wouldn't take much to ignite a firestorm. Back when Trish did her initial story there was no instant email going out to hundreds of parents at once. Communications between sources, reporters, police, school districts and citizens are no longer on a 24 hour cycle, but are moment by moment, with everyone craving and expecting the absolute latest information immediately. Bloggers and columnists are watching every move and are rightly there to call anyone out on their misteps. As a whole this an example of the new transparency that puts us all on the hot seat and I would argue makes us better journalists for it.

Interesting to see Jason DeRusha's comments on this story, talking about "making news" Why don't cover the REAL news instead of going out and making it up? Why don't you quit posing "good questions" (to whom?) and tell us what's going on in the world. Instead of going out on the street to ask people inane questions that nobody cares about, why don't you get out on the street and do some real news and investigation?
WCCO used to be a good station; it had some high quality newspeople. It doesn't any more, and Jason DeRusha is one of the perpetrators of meaningless, trivial, and pointless news. Jason DeRusha is a BIG reason I don't watch WCCO anymore. The other local stations are only a little better.

It is very rare indeed to see a journalist admit to any errors in factual gathering and/or reporting of a story. I commend David Brauer who has been among the fairest of journalists in this town for a long time. Not only was David willing to admit to errors (minor in my opinion) made in reporting this story, he went into detail and followed up with all the reported sources to double check the facts. That, my friends, is a thoughtful approach to news.

I am intrigued by the contrast of this story - a news media outlet pitching idea to police dept and police dept raising all kinds of red flags, with that found a couple clicks over at the strib - police dept pitches story of prostitution raid to news media outlet (to cover an ongoing investigation into bad cops) and said news media outlet bites hook, line and sinker. Hmmmmmmm......

Tom (#16) - Are you serious? Fox pulled the story prior to the "public outrage". Furthermore is giving a parent a better understanding of what their children are willing to do for strangers a bad thing? Other non-Fox networks have done the same tests and there was not "public outrage" in the past. Lastly what is with all the Trish Van Pllsum hate on this blog. 19 Emmy's and 2 Edward R. Murrow's equates to more credibility then the whole of She works for Fox, liberal hate Fox we get it, but don't take it out on the most honored reporter in the city.

Speaking more as a parent than a journalist, what kind of parent A) thinks it is a good idea to "test" their children in this manner and B) thinks it is a good idea to test their children in this manner in the very public arena of television? Jeepers.

So here's my story idea of the day: Since childhood obesity is an issue, we set up a hidden camera, put some cookies in a cookie jar, tell kids not to eat them and then show the kids raiding the cookie jar on the 9 o'clock news.

Thank you for the clarification. Speaks well of MNPost. That said, the use of stunts to make a news point seems to be taking the place of solid journalism on the local stations. Not alot of coverage of things of import that are unfolding: basically chasing firetrucks, crime, news you can use, stunts, fluff. I stopped watching long ago. The only solid thing left was the weather.

I'm probably going to regret wading into this, but, before my better judgment kicks in:

Trish Van Pilsum, Jason DeRusha and Esme Murphy are all exceptional reporters, and it's hard to imagine three who could be more different in style. There is room -- more room than ever, in fact, these days -- for many styles of ethical, effective journalism.

Some people just hate commercial TV news. Occasionally, we give them reason to. On the other hand, they seem blind to the good work done in local television. Fortunately for us, lots of people in the Twin Cities market still do find value in the news product offered by stations here.

David Brauer is another fallible journalist who enhances his ample credibility by taking ownership of his errors, even when they are small. That's one of the reasons I respect him.

The most presumptuous of the posts I've read here this week -- and that is truly saying something, considering the staggering sanctimoniousness I've seen -- are those that state as fact what Fox 9's "intent" was. Only those directly involved know that. I think it's fairer to judge based on performance than to speculate as to intent.

To my friends and fierce competitors at Fox 9: I hope we're smart enough to learn from your experience. There but for the grace of God go we.

My apologies for the cross post but I didn't the story shift earlier.

Ms. Pilsum,

If I understand your position correctly, your complaining about being criticized for something you didn't actually do. Fair enough.

I think the complaint though isn't that you drove around trying to talk to kids from an SUV, my complaint at least is that you considered doing it in the first place. I frankly don't see the harm or potential harm that others are worried about, my problem is that this simply isn't news. In this case you are not covering news you would be creating news (which ironically you did even thought you chose not to go ahead with the exercise). As far as I can see there is no actual story here, your team was just trying to tap into parental hysteria (which is abundant) for ratings. Sometimes when you play with the bull you get the horns.

What exactly was the story here? That kids sometimes talk to strangers? If you ask kids for directions sometimes they'll give them to you? If you drive around Edina in an SUV some kids will talk to you?

This has nothing to do with child safety in any event because in the real world we don't know everyone, most people are strangers, and that's the same world kids live in. I hate to break it to you but kids are people to, and like all of us they have to deal with strangers on occasion, and 99.9999% of the strangers they come across are harmless. Do I really need point out for the millionth time that less than 10
% of child abductions are stranger abductions, and 90% of molesters are NOT strangers but friends and family? And just because a kid talks to a stranger doesn't mean their on some potential victim list, there's a big difference between talking to a stranger and getting in a strangers car.

And what are you going to do with this story anyways? You think you can tell parents how to keep their kids safe? Sorry, beyond banal common sense you've got nothing to offer here. No child is a match for the few skilled pedophiles who target children like this, some days are just not good days, even for children, are you going to tell parents that? I doubt it.

There are real stories and actual news out there. Maybe someone should try covering that and see what happens to ratings... just a thought.

Van Pilsum's defensiveness leads me to believe that nothing will be learned from this experience. The ignorance that she and her defenders show is amazing to me. No she didn't go through with their idiotic idea, but its no to far a stretch to imagine that it was because of the public outcry. To say that Van Pilsum has done something similar in the past and it was successful seems to me that be a rather inane comment. Two wrongs comes to mind.

Schools have an awesome responsibility. The lives of thousands of children are in their hands day in and day out. There is very little room for error when the safety of those children is in question. That's why they form especially close relationships with local police departments. Who could understand that responsibility better? For Fox 9 to even consider going ahead with a plan that was these two institutions objected to is beyond stupid. I find it difficult to believe that wouldn't work with the police department and the school district. I this case it seems that they are in direct opposition.

Let me ask the news folks here a question. What if a child was taken by someone posing as a TV news person? Suppose the poor kid saw the piece on the news the night before and just thought it was another "News" show and that maybe they'd be on TV? Is that so far fetched? You people really need to think about what you’re doing.

Mr. DeRusha,

//I have seen many stories over the years by news organizations trying to lure children (with parental permission ahead of time) and they're extremely effective. They are shocking. The best part of the story is the parent interview ahead of time saying, "There's no way my Johnny would go with a stranger." And then Johnny goes with the stranger.

Inner workings indeed. See this is the problem, you guys have time, resources, and world full of stories to cover and you keep doing this crap over and over. Why? It's effective? Effective at what? A tornado hit a town five years ago and you have someone standing there now, live, in the dark... Why? And you'll do it every year for how long?

The more I see of Fox's thinking on this the worse it gets. Your going to re-do something (which wasn't news a the time either) you did five years ago, but you want to ratchet it up somehow to tap into even more parental anxiety? And this is journalism?

And I'm sorry, but this notion that a non-story like this is somehow contributing to child safety is simply ridiculous. I can tell you without leaving my living room what will happen if you drive around Edina asking kids for directions, some of them will talk to you. You think this is some kind of expose'? You think your compiling some kind of special information? I talked to a couple kids on the elevator in Washington DC a few days ago, asked them if they'd been to the Spy Museum, they said: "Yeah it was cool". Is this a story? Kids talk to strangers on elevators story at 9:00?

I see local TV news try to tap into parental anxiety/hysteria in one way or another almost every time I watch local news, and your not doing a community service, your just trying to get ratings. No one blames the industry for trying to get ratings, that's what the business is about. My thing is: 1) I think your losing ratings this way, it's a really bad business model. 2) Why not find actual new stories instead trying to "make" news with non-stories like this? And by the way, not everyone in your audience is a hysterical parent, or even a parent.

So which is more sensational? The action by Fox 9 or the reaction by this writer? For me, there isn't a whole lot of difference and both reinforce my feelings that we have lost something very important in the entire process of reporting the news.

Mr. Maras has a point. I think the story about the non-story is as much of a non-story as the non-story it's about... ha.

I think the value of this story is it gives us an opportunity to discus the way local TV news fails or succeeds to contribute to meaningful public discourse. I hope it also provides a unique window into the viewing audience for those who work for local TV news. Even snarky criticism can be constructive. This particular stupid idea got canned, but plenty of other just-as-stupid ideas make on the air every week. I hope these discussions can actually be helpful for those in the struggling established media.

Nice of Scott Libin to drop in with his thoughts. For those who don't know who he is, he is the news director for WCCO-TV.

Two words: BBC News.
it's on tpt2 at 10. Beats channels 4,5,9, and 11 all to heck.

Mr. Libin:

//The most presumptuous of the posts I've read here this week -- and that is truly saying something, considering the staggering sanctimoniousness I've seen -- are those that state as fact what Fox 9's "intent" was.

I'm sorry but the intent is clear, you're trying to capture viewers, it's not that complicated. You're a TV news department after all, not a group of biologist, what other intent would you have? The goal itself is not a problem, in fact it's a necessity. Obviously the point is to examine how viewers are captured.

The question is whether or not you guys are willing to engage in serious self examination or make excuses to keep doing what your doing. I may be wrong but isn't your audience shrinking?

Paul, I wonder how many of the people who comment regularly watch TV news, and are making meaningful comments about what is actually on the air; and how many of the people here NEVER watch TV News and are simply airing cliched complaints that may or may not apply.

Could we be better? Yes. Should we be better? Yes. Is everything we do a crass effort to grab viewers at the expense of the greater good of society? Of course not.

This was one story idea. One situation by one station. It's unfair to turn it into a larger indicator of anything. Last night WCCO aired a fantastic story on Insurance regulations in Minnesota and Monday another great piece on allegations of corruption in the Attorney General's office. If you didn't watch, you missed out.

I still don't understand what the apology (Brauer's) was for. There was an error of ommission at most, not commission.

Pilson's perceived beef with the school and police over them not reconfirming that the story was still on is self-serving. It would be hard to imagine the liason or officer getting on the phone and saying "I'm about to hit the 'send' button - is your story still on?"

Earlier posters rebuttals that question why the issue isn't "What is KMSP doing with this re-enactment masquerading as news?" are spot on. These stories move from reporting the news to participating in it, and steering the outcome.

And finally, going back to the well with another "You should be very scared of the world" story is very cheap and easy. Pushing the shock button is like turning on a spigot, just bring up the words kids and strangers and you've killed two minutes of air time.

Without being over-speculative I think it's clear the whole thing was well beyond the "idea stage" unless EPD was just guessing into the wind on specific time frames and a car make and model.

I was glad to have more info about it though, from all sides. The thing with this whole blog/twitter age is the deadline will always be "NOW". So I don't fault Brauer for reporting what he did at the time as he did quote a statement from Fox. That said I know Brauer can do some great sleuthing, so I would have liked to seen maybe a little more primary sourcing and a little less "burn em' at the stake."

Some also seemed quick to associate KMSP with the cable counterpart and at least from my experience KMSP is not even close to adopting the same approach to sensationalism in reporting that Fox News prescribes to. Now if KMSP and KSTP ever decided to switch affiliations, I think we'd have a much closer match.

Mr. DeRusha,

I can only speak for myself, I watch almost every night, but only the first ten minutes or so, and I flip around because frequently, I mean frequently, the lead on any given station is a stupid story or non-story. I only watch the first ten minutes or so because after that it's all fluff, weather and sports (sports is trivia not news). I try to watch for the weather forecast but I frequently miss it, it gets lost in all the crap about almanacs, and what the temp was ten years ago yesterday,etc. etc. They say their going to give the forcast and then they don't for another five minutes whatever, I can always look it up online, which is what I do.

As someone who watches the news every night, I'm telling you this is NOT an isolated incident, and I think it is perfectly fair to generalize because this in fact goes on all the time,(Amelia's diet for example). I'm sorry but your marketing is about a subtle as brick to the head, if you had more than ten minutes of news, I'd watch longer. I didn't see your insurance story last night because the lead was some thing about some kid who's surviving cancer of some kind (again, subtle as a brick to the head) that's not news, I turned the channel and never came back, remember I've only got ten minutes, I'm not wasting a minute.

I think it would be a mistake to assume that commentators here don't watch TV. My impression is that although I'm not your average viewer, I may not be that much of an anomaly. But again, isn't your audience shrinking? I'm not asking for perfection, I'm just asking for news.

As a parent, and as someone who has used "new media" longer than anybody in this conversation, I'm in agreement with Tom Horner, David Hanner and Jim Camery.

Van Pilsum's story idea (if it were hers originally) was bad from the get-go. Any parent who would think this a good idea needs to have their head examined. Several people pointed out how useless this story is both from a news point of view, as well as from being good for the parents and children. It really has no redeeming values, even if it has been done by other stations in the past.

I also agree with Sara Barrow. David Brauer while human like the rest of us, has gracefully apologized for errors and calmly reacted to more incendiary attacks than anyone I've ever seen. Just about anybody else would have lost their cool in those situations.

Criticizing bloggers and other "right now" communications quite misses the key issues, and is generally misplaced. Van Pilsum may be a great reporter and have done great things in the past. This was boneheaded beyond belief. There is no adequate "explanation" or excuse. A big mea culpa and apology is what's needed.


I wish I was parent, I mean I'm just so clueless.

Paul Udstrand---your comments are astute, and you are not an anomaly. People are sick of what passes as TV news these days. That includes 'reporters' and cameramen going up to accused criminals' front doors and attempting to interrogate them, video of people in private emotional distress, 'reporters' assuring us that someone's faith sustained them through some horrible event, and things like this child-luring story, which is still giving TV news something to talk about. This morning I saw headlines about the 'disturbing details' of the case (the paintball gun, duct tape, and condoms--YIKES!). While I'm at it, let me add that one of the most sickening performances by a local TV news anchor was Don Shelby's gratuitous remarks after Paul Wellstone's memorial service. Nobody cared about what fussy old lady Shelby thought about the service. And the way his comments presaged so precisely the ensuing Republican moral outrage over the 'politicizing' of the memorial service seems more than coincidental.

I have to agree with Virginia Martin And Paul Udstrand on why many of us simply ignore TV News, even shelving it right up there along with "reality" TV. Jason DeRusha can castigate us all he wants for not watching, but there's a reason for that and for watching TPT's "Almanac" and KSTP's "At Issue"--we prefer discussion of actual news rather than infotainment.

Transparency diminishes neither the quality of news nor policy, something than Esme Murphy seems to get saying "this an example of the new transparency that puts us all on the hot seat and I would argue makes us better journalists for it." And, it's a value where Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher is hold the Governor's feet to the fire.

Blogs and citizen journalism aren't just moving faster, they are moving closer to the actual stories that are news. Wes Nicker used to say "If you don't like the news, go out and make some of your own." That wasn't a marketing directive, however.