Riverdale police chief: Journalism “vitally important” to society

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Riverdale Police Chief David Morris spoke to University of Maryland students about the intersection of police and media. (University of Maryland, Phillip Merrill College of Journalism)

Riverdale Police Chief David Morris spoke to University of Maryland professor Elaine Povich’s public affairs reporting class about the symbiotic relationship that exists between journalists and police officers and the importance of ethics.

“Journalism is a field that is just so vitally important in our society,” Morris said. “The profession that you are exploring (journalism) is in a competitive market, and it is important that we take a hard look at what we are reporting, and if it is accurate.”

Morris spoke about how in the past, there was the idea of the “golden hour” which refers to how long journalists had to produce news.

Currently, the golden hour has turned into the “golden ten seconds.”

This essentially means that the writing and disseminating of news happens in a matter of seconds.

“Back in the day when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was at my first journalism job, I had enough time to write my notes, read through my notes once or twice and then write my story,” said Povich. “Now, if I hear about anything, I am tweeting it immediately on my phone.”

The added pressure to report information within a matter of seconds is a reason why the police department and the media must work together to ensure that the information that is presented to the public is not only relevant but accurate.

During his talk, Morris opened the floor to allow students the opportunity to ask a few questions.

“What changes would you like to see to improve police and media relations?” student Charles Youngmann asked.

“Fair and impartial reporting,” Morris replied.

Morris said that today, the national rhetoric is too much to one side and normally it is not on the side of law enforcement.

He also noted that this is one of the main reasons why these two entities must work together to build a relationship of trust and understanding.

Regarding ethics, Morris commented on the importance of maintaining some standard of ethical reporting and decision making.

“I breathe and live ethics and the philosophy of ethics,” Morris said. “Ethics is not only applicable to law enforcement, but to life.”

According to Morris, the three tenants of ethics are rules, duties and consequences.

To give his audience better insight into how those three concepts relate to one another, Morris described a scenario where he witnessed a car driving at 100 mph on the highway one night.

He stopped the car and a woman immediately jumped out and ran towards him with a cup in her hand.

A spider was inside the cup, and in the back seat of her car, her child was having an allergic reaction after being bitten by the spider.

Rather than issue a speeding ticket to the woman, Chief Morris had her, and her child, escorted to the hospital.

“In this situation, the rules said that I should give the woman a speeding ticket and follow the necessary protocol,” Morris said. First and foremost, my job is to preserve life. If following the rules puts me in direct conflict with my duty to preserve life, then I am going to break the rules.”

“Aristotle is the man because he created the cardinal virtues, and he said that we must find the means between the extremes,” Morris said.

Morris ended his talk by mentioning a quote from former Baltimore County Police Chief Cornelius J. Behan who said “Managers do things right; leaders do the right thing.”

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