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Local TV and 'Bump Keys': When Does Reporting the News Go Too Far?

For those who regularly report on crime, it's an important question: Where is the line between informing the public of alooming danger and educating criminals?

Cate150x190 WFLA-Ch. 8 anchor Keith Cate faced the question Thursday, when considering a story he reported on "bump keys" -- special keys which can open any lock of the type they are crafted for, simply by inserting the key and tapping it to align the pins inside the lock.

Such keys are hardly news: There are Web pages and tutorials on YouTube describing what bump keys are and how to use them. But a burglar conversant with them could theoretically enter a home or apartment -- especially a domicile with old and often-used locks -- without detection.Bumpkeys

So far, it sounds like a typical fearmongering local TV piece for sweeps. Especially since Cate's piece noted that Tampa police estimated only about two or three area burglaries in the last two or three years can be connected to such keys (the news peg was that a couple of guys in Polk County have recently been accused of using them in a string of burglaries)

Bumpkeyheadline Cate, to his credit, told me he was conflicted about airing the piece and asked the station to stop airing a promotional ad which made it look as if they were mostly educating people how to break into homes.

"I didnt want to promote it at all," he said. "I had my reservations about the story from the get-go. Are we giving criminals too much information? Are they benefitting more than the average citizen? Even when I was interviewing the locksmith, I said 'We may not run this story.'"

In the end, WFLA did broadcast the story, with lots of disclaimers from Cate explaining that they were trying to inform viewers and tell people the solution to bump keys is to buy new, expensive high security locks which cannot be bumped.Bumpkeys2

Cate said the station didn't get any complaints from viewers after his story ran though some people did complain about the promo ads they pulled.

What do you think? Check out Cate's story on WFLA's web site, under the news area, headlined "Bump Key Burglars."

"This story made me want to change the locks on my door," said Cate.   

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:39pm]


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