The way NewsOK.com handled its Friday release of the Joe Mixon fight video highlights the delicate nature of an editorial decision that we warned of a week earlier. A related choice the site made proved extra ironic and raised further questions about why the video should have been published at all.
Shortly after publishing the video, NewsOK disabled comments on its post that explained the content and provided perspective on Mixon’s ongoing defense against a lawsuit filed by the female college student he punched during a 2014 altercation.
NewsOK’s disabling of comments on such a controversial post brings into question just why the “state’s most trusted news” published the video in the first place.
If editors believed publishing the raw, violent footage was important for public discourse on the matter, how could they turn around and shut down public discourse on the very online post they’d made?
As if to showcase this awkward decision, comments for the video on NewsOK’s YouTube channel remain open.
Click chasing in 2016
While it’s easy to argue that online article comments often bring out the worst in people — and in this instance, the “story” involved the heated topics of violence against women and football — eliminating reader comment on a journalist’s work implies the public can’t handle the content in question in the first place.
At that point, why publish the video at all if not for the sheer chase of clicks that drives online media? Unfortunately, click chasing must always be balanced with a publication’s responsibility to the public, which bodes badly for bottom lines, sometimes.
To that end, NewsOK’s disabling of reader comments seems inappropriate and lazy. Having published a controversial video that would inevitably garner great attention, editors and web administrators should have been prepared for a flood of user comments. Granted, monitoring such comment threads is a ton of work, but with controversial reporting comes great responsibility.
For example, the New York Times pulled the curtain back on its comment sections in September. The site receives 11,000 comments in any given day and employs 14 people to approve or reject the results. The Times notes that only about 10 percent of its articles are open for public comments, which raises its own unanswered editorial questions about how one of the most visible journalism publications in the world allows for reader input.
TV stations’ questionable choices
Beyond NewsOK’s questionable handling of the Mixon video — distributed by the OU running back’s attorney ahead of official release by a beleaguered court system that inappropriately blocked its release originally — other media raced into the fray late Friday and made their own questionable choices.
News 9, for instance, displayed the video on its website and Facebook page without disclaimer about the included violence, and the TV station set the video to auto-play, meaning even those who just wanted to read “the news” about the video without watching its difficult contents received an eyefull unless they could close the tab in time.
TV stations continued to milk the Molitor-Mixon fight for content the following morning. Early Saturday, Channel 4 played the video “for transparency,” according to the station’s morning anchor.
While transparency is an important concept in journalism, such an introductory note seems disingenuous. A more “transparent” explanation might be that the station knew everyone else was playing the widely viewed video, so they didn’t want to be left behind.
Bloody face changes little
In the end, much public discussion about the Mixon video has overwhelmed social media all weekend, and the comments range from high criticism for Mixon and OU coach Bob Stoops to perspective about Mixon’s need for a second chance and Molitor’s reported use of a racial slur.
What doesn’t appear to have changed greatly, however, is most anyone’s opinion about what transpired in 2014 that began this media circus. While the public now has unfettered access to video of Amelia Molitor staggering around with a bloody face, it doesn’t have much of anything different.
Moreover, Friday’s video release ultimately changed little of public importance. Instead, it plastered the unfortunate actions of two 18-year-olds across TV and computer screens in the name of clicks and ratings.
(Editor’s note: NonDoc has not published the video in question, but comments for our site’s editorials are always enabled.)