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03 October 2013

11Alive Undercover Report on TomorrowWorld Draws Criticisms from Former Tampa Bay Times Editor

"It’s not fair, it’s not right and it gives journalists a bad name."

Those are the words of former Tampa Bay Times editor-in-chief Mike Foley.

Foley made the comments to describe a recent report from Atlanta NBC affiliate 11Alive, detailing possible drug use at the three day Electronic Dance Music (EDM) music festival known as TomorrowWorld.

Under the auspices of investigative journalism, 11Alive sent two reporters undercover in a moment of "gotcha journalism" to capture drug use at Tomorrowworld. According to the 11Alive report, investigative journalists Ross McLaughlin and Shawn Hoder went to the event, bought two tickets, and took a small camera along.

"While no one would openly admit using, 11Alive watched as people pulled baggies out of cigarette boxes and took substances out that weren't cigarettes," McLaughlin and Hoder recounted.

After the report aired, some began questioning whether 11Alive followed standard journalism ethical standards.

Mike Foley, former Editor-in-Chief of the Tampa Bay Times and senior lecturer at the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications, told the website WhiteRaverRafting, "11Alive’s report was little more than a stunt made in bad taste" [Webb, Shelby (2 October 2013). “Undercover report” from TomorrowWorld borderline illegal, completely unethical. WhiteRaverRafting. Retrieved on 3 October 2013.].

"They shot from an ambush," Foley said. “I don’t know what the story does. Does it prove kids at music festival do drugs? That’s not news.”

Foley believes 11Alive may have undermined the public's trust in mainstream media outlets by using less than savory methods to gather information.

“If you’re going to lie about how you get information, then why would the public trust anything you have to say?” Foley said. “You get a better story if you don’t pose as something you’re not.”