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News-Journal Inexplicably Spikes Follow-Up Story on Drowning of 3-Year-Old Girl

| April 21, 2011

Volusia County has been grappling with a spate of child drownings this year.

“The mother of a 3-year-old girl who died after playing in an inflatable pool told detectives her 5-year-old son drowned his sister, [Daytona Beach] Police Chief Mike Chitwood said Wednesday.

“It is our understanding that the 5-year-old boy has behavioral issues and they (the family) were in the process of getting him help, Chitwood said.”

That’s how the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s follow-up to a story on Wednesday would have read, in part, in today’s editions. Editors had approved the story for today’s paper. It was budgeted on the daily list of stories prepared and circulated by editors, and set to run. In early evening Wednesday, however, News-Journal Publisher Michael Redding, according to a News-Journal staffer who requested anonymity, killed the story.

“Chief Chitwood confirmed today that the 5-year-old brother drowned his sister and that the family is seeking behavioral health for the brother, and the justice reporters went full steam ahead with a folo,” the staffer wrote, using newspaper shorthand. “Then Pat Rice called after 7 p.m. to tell the editors that Michael had spiked the story. He didn’t feel the news that the 5-year-old had drowned his sister merited a folo.” Rice is the News-Journal’s editor.

The staffer subsequently added, referring to the story about the drowning: “Every major TV station out of Orlando has it, but the only media source in Daytona Beach doesn’t. Only Redding knows why, my guess is that someone has given him heat for all the coverage of local child drownings, but what does he expect? The paper to ignore people dying? It’s disgraceful.”

The staffer made a point noting that he or she had “frankly disagreed with your last article about Michael Redding and the new management.” (The article, summing up the News-Journal’s first year under new ownership, reported on Redding’s offer of cash bonuses to newsroom staffers if they sold subscriptions and advertising.)

Rice and Redding did not respond to an email asking why the follow-up story on the drowning had been spiked.

The obviously tragic dimensions of the story aside, there appears to be no controversy surrounding the reporting of the story, or of authorities making information available.

Jimmie Flynt, the Daytona Beach Police Department’s spokesman, had put out a news release saying that the drowning “appears to be a tragic accident.” He then wrote, in an email to reporters, that “During the course of the investigation, Detectives learned that the brother may have had some involvement with his sister death. The Department of Children and Families has taken over the case.”

Wednesday evening, Orlando’s WESH 2 news reported the story this way: “A 5-year-old boy, brother of 3-year-old Victoria Cunningham, held the girl under water while they played in a small pool set up in the garage of this Derbyshire home. The boy allegedly told his mother Tonya Causey that, and she told police. But DCF doesn’t take it as gospel yet.”

Florida leads the country in the drowning of children under age 5. The drowning of the 3-year-old girl, the daughter of 38-year-old Tonya Causey, on Tuesday evening (April 19), is “the fifth child to drown in Volusia County this year, and the second Daytona Beach 3-year-old to drown in the past month,” the News-Journal’s Andrew Gant had reported Wednesday.

The News-Journal has been striving to project a “positive” image for the city and the county in an attempt to woo advertisers and readers, who have been migrating from the paper in large numbers to other media.

Several weeks ago a News-Journal business writer was fired after publishing results of a survey that showed Daytona Beach to be the state’s second-most dangerous spring break destination after Orlando.

Follow-up on stories such as Tuesday’s drowning are routine, particularly when the original story raises questions that are then answered—as one question was, by authorities. The question had been raised by the headline on the News-Journal’s original story: “Police: Boy, 5, may have been involved in sister’s drowning.”, a news site run by Henry Frederick, a former News-Journal staffer, had broken the story of the drowning within two hours of the incident (the story was written by  John Bozzo, also a former News-Journal staffer), and ran a follow-up the next day that had police suspecting the 5 year old’s involvement in the drowning.

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10 Responses for “News-Journal Inexplicably Spikes Follow-Up Story on Drowning of 3-Year-Old Girl”

  1. w.ryan says:

    News has to be told. The News Journal seems somewhat negligent about getting the follow-up out. My question is this…how can a 5 year old be held culpable for his sisters drowning? Cause and affect doesn’t process in this child’s mind. What about the parents? How could they lay the blame on this child? Where were they to let this happen? If this child had such a problem then why would they leave these children alone?

  2. lawabidingcitizen says:

    Behavioral problems???

    Allowing a three and five year old near a pool without adequate adult supervision is criminally negligent and whoever is trying to blame a five year old is despicable.

  3. DLF says:

    I think this was more of a sour grape article then reporting the news. My bet is that Pierre wrote this piece and many of us know how he feels about the DNJ. It was odd ,that no reporter for Flagler Live was willing to stand up and take credit or blame for this piece. I did not understand why the main theme was the failure of the DNJ in their reporting. Why was this article not more geared towards the tragic death of the child, maybe I am off base. There have been many articles that Flagler Live has reported on and failed either by choice or chance not to follow up on. the firing of Ms, Conklin comes to mind and the status of the Egyptian government make over is another. Just wondering why it is good journalism for one but not the other?

  4. Charles Ericksen Jr says:

    Sad story, but young children should never be left alone, irregardless( I’m told there is no such word, by many, but I use it ) of reason to leave..

  5. Concerned says:

    I hope you are considering that by quoting anonymous N-J staffers, you are creating a witch hunt in the newsroom that’s further stressing out your former co-workers. That said, this is absolutely a story. And anyone in this town who pays attention to the media has to be asking themselves what’s going on in the N-J publisher’s office. Perhaps something about this hit close to home

  6. elaygee says:

    It’s just another part of the DBNJ’s shift to a right wing tea-bagger rag

  7. Tom Brown says:

    Dear Concerned… No doubt there is tension in the newsroom today, and that’s a shame. But readers have a right to know how editorial decisions are being made inside Daytona’s major newspaper. Redding and Rice like to issue “Letters to Our Readers.” Perhaps they’ll do one on this topic.

  8. Prescient33 says:

    Only in the warped reasoning of a committed “progressive” can this translate to a political editorial decision.
    It is evident from the scatological term used to describe a political movement involving many of your neighbors. Gutter language is the refuge of those who have vocabularies as low as their IQ’s.

  9. suewho1010 says:

    This is a tragic story and I don’t believe any newspaper should be jumping on board to victimize a 5 year old boy. He is just a small child himself, If anything the focus should be on the mother of the 2 children why were they unattended. I’m glad they did not run the article. KUDOS

  10. No one questions this is a tragic event. The boy was victimized by his mother, not a story written about what happened. I think folks have lost sight of what role the media is supposed to play in a well-informed society.

    This story being written, the original and a follow-up of what happened, may very well save lives. We all know not to leave our small children in the tub unattended. This mom didn’t make the connection that this situation was no different. And on top of that, her other child had behavioral issues that should have also influenced her decision to walk away and leave the children unattended. This story coming to light could be an example to all of us, (young parents, good parents, too-busy parents) of how vigilant we much be. I consider myself a good parent, but these stories always make me rethink my choices, the tragedy of what happened always makes me a more alert parent. We all say we don’t want these tragedies to be in vain. Well, we have to know about them in order for the lessons to be learned so it doesn’t happen again.

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