The next chapter…


The last 6 months I have tirelessly contacted several death row prisons trying to find a current inmate who would be willing to talk to me. Last October I wrote to Arizona’s only female death row inmate and asked her if she would be willing to be interviewed for my documentary.

Today I received her response. The process of obtaining an interview with an inmate is a lengthy one, which I’ve experienced takes months.

Shawna Forde is willing to have an interview and although my documentary is complete and submitted, I strongly believe that it is my job as a journalist to tell the extraordinary stories of ordinary people. Shawna has a story to tell and so this will be a new chapter for DEATH ROW.




Change in program choice.

After much research into the program my documentary would be most suited for, I initially wanted my documentary to be the type of feature to appear on the BBC, more specifically either the BBC world service or BBC 4’s why factor. However, I listened to several of their features in great detail and after much consideration I felt as if my feature and the vision I have of it would be more suited towards another program.

I came across Radiotopia. Launched by Public Radio Exchange (PRX), they describe it as “somewhat like an independent record label”. It is in fact an American podcast network that incorporates 16 shows, which have become insanely popular within two years of the station launch. Their podcasts are downloaded over 13 million times each month. It is hugely popular both in America and here in the UK, as it is fiercely independent and allows  an established platform for sustaining quality, story- driven public radio shows. 

Since the shift in technology and media, audio programs and features no longer have to be for just the radio, there has been a huge increase in the listenership of online podcasts and this is just one of the reasons why I have decided that my feature would be better suited for Radiotopia

Around the time of Radiotopia‘s launch in 2014 the network’s podcasts received around 900,000 downloads per month. This figure had increased to 7.5 million by May 2015 , 8.5 million in September 2015 and 13 million as of June 2016. 

The particular show hosted by Radiotopia, that I would see my feature being hosted on would be ‘Criminal‘. “Criminal is a podcast about crime. Stories of people who’ve done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle.”

My documentary is about the death penalty – and although Criminal have created Episode 45: Just Mercy – which tells the story about a student lawyer who was working on a death row clients case, my documentary is based on the entire topic and whether or not it is a just punishment for a murder, closely looking at those affected. Therefore I can see my documentary fitting in with their recurring theme and Radiotopia as a whole. 

Another reason why I wanted to choose Radiotopia and Criminal, is because of the way they create their episodes. The use of music and sound effects and the way they let the people tell the stories is exactly how I envision my feature to be.

I found that although the documentaries on the BBC World Service and BBC 4 were compelling in the stories they had to tell, the execution of them were not to my taste, the lack of music, actuality and sound effects, in my opinion made me as a listener bored and switch off. This is something that I do not want happen with my piece. Although my interviewees and the stories they tell are deep, dark and utterly compelling on their own, by the clever use of music, actuality and sound effects I can bring what they say to life, with the aim to always keep them on their toes and intrigued about what is coming next. 

The ethics of Criminal for me to consider:

I decided to contact the creators of Criminal directly to find out the ethics and guidelines that they follow when creating their shows, in order for me to understand what I have to abide by for when I am creating my piece under their brand. 

Lauren Spohrer is the producer for Criminal and this is what she said:

“Each show in the Radiotopia collective is independently owned by its producers, and each show makes their own editorial choices. Before we started Criminal, we all worked in public radio and adhere to those principles: Most decisions regarding violence, language, pseudonyms etc, we talk them through on a case by case basis and typically we explain to the listener why we’ve made the choice we made to ensure transparency. You will also notice how we use disclaimers to warn our listeners of some of the content we have, when discussing violence etc. We have the creative freedom and platform to do what we want as long as we justify why we have done it.”

Check out Radiotopia and in particular Criminal for a feel of what my documentary will be similar to. 

Privacy: Reporting Death, Suffering and Distress

7.4.38 – We must always balance the public interest in full and accurate reporting against the need to be compassionate and to avoid any unjustified infringement of privacy when we report accidents, disasters, disturbances, violence against individuals or war.

We will always need to consider carefully the editorial justification for portraying graphic material of human suffering and distress.  When crews arriving at the scene of a disaster or emergency are under pressures that make it difficult to judge whether recording is an unjustified breach of privacy, they will often record as much material as possible.  However, in such a situation, even more care must be taken to assess any privacy implications prior to broadcast.  The demands of live output and speed in the use of pictures should not override consideration of the privacy of those suffering or in distress.

There will be distressing accounts of suffering and distress, alongside repeated mentioning of death and executions – due to the nature of the subject being documented. Some reports will be graphic to fully and honestly portray the nature of the events that happened. 


5.4.27 – Our audiences, particularly children, can be frightened or distressed by the portrayal of both real and fictional violence.  We should make very careful judgements when we plan to include violence in our output; there is increasing public concern about violence in society in general and as portrayed in the media, both in factual and fictional content.

Consideration should be given to the editorial justification for any depiction of violence, and violent content should normally be clearly signposted.  When real life violence, or its aftermath, is shown on television or reported on radio and online we need to strike a balance between the demands of accuracy and the dangers of desensitisation or unjustified distress.  There are very few circumstances in which it is justified to broadcast the moment of death.

There will discussion of violence that someone experienced within my documentary – and it is important that it is included because it honestly and truthfully depicts the ordeal that someone experienced first hand. 

Children and Dangerous Imitation

5.4.48 – Children can be influenced by what they see, hear and read.  Behaviour likely to be easily imitable by children in a manner that is dangerous, must not be broadcast before the watershed or on radio when children are particularly likely to be in our audience or online when content is likely to appeal to a significant proportion of children. 

My documentary is not aimed at younger audiences below 16 really – so the inclusion of violence in my documentary can be included as it shouldn’t affect the future behaviour of young people as they won’t be listening to it. 

5.4.49 – Very careful judgements are required about content which might lead to dangerous imitation, particularly when they include the use of domestic objects (such as knives, hammers and scissors) in violent acts.  Such content must not be featured in output made primarily for children unless there is a strong editorial justification.  Factual programmes designed for children should ensure that care is taken to discourage imitation of techniques, experiments and so forth.

Radio Scheduling

5.4.12 – Radio does not have a watershed.  Our scheduling decisions should be based on the audience expectations of each radio service and informed by our knowledge of when children are particularly likely to be in our audience.  We must take extra care when different generations may be listening together.  This typically applies during the morning and afternoon school runs or during school holidays.  Unexpected or challenging material should be clearly signposted to avoid causing unjustifiable offence. 

When considering the date and time for potential broadcast – must take into consideration the hours that particular listeners tune – especially if children are popular listeners of a particular channel. 

5.4.14 – We should consider using on-air announcements to inform listeners about programmes which contain difficult or controversial material which would otherwise be unexpected on our speech services such as Radio 4, Radio 5 Live, the World Service and other national and local stations.  These services are predominantly for adult listeners and their audiences expect to hear a full range of issues and events explored throughout the schedule.

I intend to put disclaimers throughout the documentary to ensure listeners of some sensitive or difficult information to follow – allowing them the chance to not listen any further. 


5.2.1 – The BBC must apply generally accepted standards so as to provide adequate protection for members of the public from the inclusion of offensive and harmful material.

I will be putting in disclaimers throughout the documentary to warn listeners of harmful material.

5.2.2 – We must not broadcast material that might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of children and young people.

The topic of the death penalty will not contain any material that will seriously impair – physically, mentally or the development of children and young people. Similar documentaries have been made by the BBC for a similar production program. 

5.2.4 – We must balance our responsibility to protect children and young people from unsuitable content with their rights to freedom of expression and freedom to receive information. 

Some of the information that will be told in the documentary won’t be particularly suitable for under 14’s. 

5.2.5 – We must ensure our audiences have clear information on which to judge whether content is suitable for themselves or their children.

5.2.6 – The use of strong language must be editorially justified and appropriately signposted to ensure it meets audience expectations, wherever it appears. 

Language such as swearing will not be used within the documneatyr, however there will be the use of some very description words. 

Harm and Offence: Introduction

The BBC aims to reflect the world as it is, including all aspects of the human experience and the realities of the natural world.  In doing so, we balance our right to broadcast innovative and challenging content, appropriate to each of our services, with our responsibility to protect the vulnerable and avoid unjustifiable offence.

Creative risk-taking is a vital part of the BBC’s mission.  However, in all our output, the greater the risk, the greater the thought, care and planning required to bring creative content to fruition.  We must be sensitive to, and keep in touch with, generally accepted standards as well as our audiences’ expectations of our content, particularly in relation to the protection of children.  Audience expectations of our content usually vary according to the service on which it appears.

When our content includes challenging material that risks offending some of our audience we must always be able to demonstrate a clear editorial purpose, taking account of generally accepted standards, and ensure it is clearly signposted.  Such challenging material may include, but is not limited to, strong language, violence, sex, sexual violence, humiliation, distress, violation of human dignity, and discriminatory treatment or language. 

Throughout the documentary there is going to be information, facts and storytelling of personal accounts that will be sensitive to some listeners, therefore I will be putting disclaimers in throughout the documentary to warn those who may want to stop listening. In particularly there will be one harrowing first hand account which may personally affect some listeners.