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Story bears repeating even with graphic language

September 24, 2011|Joel Huffer

The email came into the office and included the following words:

"WARNING: The raw video is posted and includes GRAPHIC LANGUAGE. (Understandable considering the circumstances!)"

Now, this is not the kind of email we receive every day at The Herald-Mail, so our collective curiosity was piqued, to say the least.

The email was sent from the director of digital media at WDBJ, a television station in Roanoke, Va., owned by Schurz Communications, the parent company of The Herald-Mail.

As part of a corporate "story share" program, we receive from — and offer to — other newspapers and television stations stories and videos that might be of interest to readers and website users outside of our immediate area.

In this case, the Roanoke station was offering to us a nearly four-minute video of two men's encounter with a black bear during a day of fishing in Botetourt County, Va.

The video begins with the bear approaching the men and sniffing the ground around them. As the son films the encounter, the father can be seen taking photos of the bear with his cellphone.

"Don't move too sudden," one of the voices says.

The bear nibbles at one of the father's boots for a few seconds, then runs away.

Rather than seize the opportunity to leave the area, the men stay and the bear returns.

"This might be the dumbest thing we've ever done," the son says.

To this point, the video is pretty tame — well, except for the wild bear. The men discuss having a knife, and the father even calls someone on his cellphone and describes the encounter.

"This is unreal ... call me," he says.

But the longer the bear stays, the more agitated it seems to become. The men discuss the possibility that the bear is rabid, and when it snaps a branch near the feet of the father, both declare "that's enough."

The graphic language was limited to two instances, but it was deemed worthy of discussion before posting it to www.herald-mail.com. One editor said he didn't hear the profanity when he first watched it, and the consensus was that the language was understandable given the emotion of the moment. (Truth be told, if you ever come to my house while I'm struggling through any home improvement project, you're likely to hear worse.)

The decision was made to post the video, and it was labeled "GRAPHIC LANGUAGE: Two men's encounter with a bear in Botetourt County." Though the content might be offensive to some, it wasn't posted without discussion or without an appropriate warning.

Technology has put new media into our hands and forced us to have discussions we never considered. But have them we will, keeping in mind the interests and expectations of our readers, both in print and online.

The video can be found at http://www.herald-mail.com/videobeta/?watchId=e7063faf-a2f2-46dc-97fc-4f7ee1eeac62.

That is, if you can bear to watch.


Joel Huffer is assistant city editor of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7796 or by email at joelh@herald-mail.com.

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