Covering executions: Who determines public opinion?
June 9th, 2011
Lincoln, NE – On September 2nd, 1994, Omaha television stations went live to cover the execution of Harold Lamont Otey. At the time, Otey was the first person to be put to death in Nebraska in 35 years. After another gap of 14 years since the last use of the electric chair in 1997, state officials are now pursuing Nebraska’s first use of lethal injection.
Jeremy Lipschultz, a Journalism professor at the University of Nebraska Omaha, analyzed how the executions in the 1990s were reported for a book on crime and local TV news. Grant Gerlock of NET News came to the KVNO Studios and asked him how those stories were told and what might be different today.
“The overall coverage was fairly similar, namely particularly with the Otey execution. It was described as a party-like atmosphere, a carnival-like atmosphere. You had a lot of things going on at the midnight hour, in terms of people coming out of bars in Lincoln and that kind of thing. From a public relations standpoint, it was an uncontrolled environment in a lot of ways.”
Lipshultz talked about the differences between the executions and how the media handled them.
“Now there were changes over time with each of these three events. In the case of the Otey execution, it had been 35 years since there had been one, and so television had changed a lot in terms of going on live from the scene.”
To hear the full interview with Lipschultz, click the audio button above. And to watch clips of Omaha’s coverage of the Otey execution, click the image on the left.
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