Covering homelessness during a cold snap

During the major cold snap that engulfed most of the country during the holiday season, Bryce Dole, a reporter for the Bulletin in Bend, Oregon, was covering how it impacted a homeless encampment, when he and photographer Dean Guernsey met Shellie Macvane and were concerned about her wellbeing. “It didn’t take a doctor to discern that Macvane was in bad shape,” Dole wrote. “Her tent was paper thin and she did not have the proper clothes for the frigid conditions. Freezing rain and snow was in the forecast. We were concerned she wouldn’t survive the night.” After helping her find more heat, Dole and Guernsey went home but later called in a wellness check for Macvane. Journalists are typically taught not to do anything that could impact the story and to simply report and bear witness, but Dole recalled a lesson one of his mentors taught him — be a human first. He wrote about the situation as a means of being transparent. The SPJ Code of Ethics says, “ethical journalism means taking responsibility for one’s work and explaining one’s decisions to the public.” Journalists should encourage a civil dialogue with the public about journalistic practices, coverage and news content. The Code also calls for reporters to be accountable and transparent, and to show compassion for those impacted by news coverage. It says that “ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.” SPJ’s Journalist’s Toolbox also offers resources for covering the homeless.