Thursday, May 18, 2017

''To give the news impartially..."

''To give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interests involved'' … New York Times

Thirty-six people died in the Hindenburg disaster in 1937. You've seen the film footage more than once, I'm sure. “Oh, the humanity!” became part of our cultural history as a reporter commented on the horrific scene in New Jersey.
In 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart. Cameras rolled as seven people died. Every January, the footage is played again as the nation remembers the event.
On September 11, 2001, two planes crashed into the World Trade Center. Upwards of 3,000 people died on morning TV. The debate began about whether the footage should ever be played again, with many people posting every September 11 since that the video should be played to remind us of that horrific day. Still, it was journalists who recorded those horribly unforgettable images for posterity.
Ahh, that old, familiar scapegoat, the media. Whatever the story, whatever the reality, the public feels justified in blaming the messenger. These days, it's either the “liberal media” or the “alt-right” media or the “fake news” media getting blamed for the ills of America and the world.
At the local level, your friendly community newspaper isn't immune from criticism.
Some criticism is expected. Whether it's public officials squandering money or bringing in tons of possibly toxic coal ash or proposing some controversial piece of public policy, most journalists I know expect to get some grief when they report these sorts of stories.
Let a controversial story happen, though, and Heaven forbid if you don't take an editorial stance. A simple retelling of what happens at a city council meeting isn't simple at all. You see, you'd better blatantly take someone's side or else you're against the other side. The message? “Write the story we want, or else.” The consequences are personal attacks and attempts at sabotaging your media outlet's business.
That's all old news for me, though. It's water under the bridge, over the dam, and out to sea. As a grown person, you learn to take your lumps and bumps, get used and abused, and soldier on.
Yet, I'm still surprised by some people's reactions to other stories, especially those involving human tragedy.
Perhaps other newspapers and media outlets don't care about people, but I can assure you we consider everyone involved in every story. We talk about the tragedies involved. Our conversations are about the kids and family members left behind and the loss to the community. You never see that, and you may not believe me, but it happens nonetheless.
Our conversations are also about how to do the stories right. We're not going to run pictures that show graphic scenes of blood and gore.
Instead, we're going to tell the stories of accidents and fires and deaths and murders in the same manner as law enforcement delivers them to us. We will not sensationalize them.
But, the bottom line is this: we are going to report the news, and we are going to print pictures and share videos that show the scenes of all sorts of events, from fires to murders to horrific car crashes.
This is our job. We have an obligation to faithfully and accurately report what happens in public life. I understand that if the story directly affects you and your family that seeing coverage of your situation is upsetting, and I am very sorry. I wish it could be otherwise. 
For the rest of you, though, I have a question. Do such stories make you uncomfortable? Good. Maybe you'll slow down and quit driving like a maniac. Maybe you'll find a way to help a domestic violence survivor or a homeless person or a fire victim.
Unfortunately, my experience is that you'll instead attack us for telling the story. You'll call our coverage “disgusting” and “cruel” and “mean.” You'll talk about “hasn't the family suffered enough,” as though us telling about it makes it any better or any worse for a family going through the darkest of days. More than anything, though, you'll talk. You can talk about it, you can gossip about it, you can speculate and assign blame and victimhood, but, by God, the media had better not tell the story.
Why? Because the people I'm talking about are a bunch of hypocrites. You hide behind your supposed concern for families and your supposed standards of morality to settle personal scores or make yourselves feel better about a world you feel is out of control. You don't want to face your own mortality. You want to imagine that nothing bad ever happens where you live. Sure, you'll share stories about outrages over there, or tragedies in that place, but surely nothing bad can happen here. You'll share videos of supposed terrorist atrocities or political hit pieces or other half-cracked information, too; that's a given. These are the same people who slow down to rubberneck at accidents and then criticize our coverage of those events. These are the same people who ask a million questions on social media about a fire or a trial or any number of things then ignore our coverage of those events and then speculate publicly about “what really happened.” They have no consequences to their actions, either.
Meanwhile, I have a job to do: record and report the events of the day. And, yes, we do have to “sell papers.” And, unfortunately, bad news sells better than good news. Blame human nature for that, but know that for me it gets difficult to report about the people who live around me, so all I can do is try to be consistent. No matter how rich or influential or poor or insignificant, if you get arrested, we are going to report that. If you are found innocent and want that published, we'll print that, too. If your kid wins the spelling bee, well, that's even better. In fact, that's lots better. I wish I never, ever had to report a bad story, ever again. I hate, hate, hate writing about the people who live around me having bad things happen to them. We are glad to help publicize for any sort of charitable work to help anyone in our community, and we do that. Every week, we publish information about ways you can help your community or ways you can get help yourself. We also share your stories about your kids' sports teams, your kids' school accomplishments, your church events, and so much more.
Why? Because we live here, too. Our kids go to school together. You see me at ball games. You're probably even my friend on Facebook, even if I do wonder why you feel it's OK to slam me and my newspaper online.
Please know this is not for all of my readers, nor is it an official statement from the newspaper I work for. This is me venting to my friends, and I hope if you disagree with anything I say, you would have the courtesy to contact me directly. I'm easy to find.
And, to all those suffering from loss and heartache, please know you have my deepest condolences. I wish I could say something more profound or make things different for you.


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