Tag Archives: reporters

Journalists, grief and acts that cannot be justified

This is why I never got into “real” journalism.

I interned at a newspaper one summer during college. Most of it was typical intern crap work — town meetings, graduations, the annual fair, that sort of thing.

One day we got word in the newsroom that two fisherman were caught in the undertow at a nearby beach and swept out. I don’t remember how many reporters and photographers rushed off — more than was necessary, I’m sure — but I was part of the group.

The specifics are fuzzy all these years later, but we get to the beach and the paramedics are treating one guy. The other guy isn’t around. We hear he didn’t make it. His waders filled with water, his friend tried to grab him, but the man was gone too fast.

Photos are snapped. Details are recorded. The mass of journalists heads back to the newsroom.

I’m assigned the task of calling the deceased fisherman’s relatives to get a response. I don’t challenge this because real reporters always ask the tough questions. Or some such nonsense.

So I call, expecting an answering machine. These poor people are surely occupied with all the emotions and to-dos of those horrible first hours.

But someone answers.

And they don’t know.

That was the moment my reporting career ended.

I told the person on the other end of the line that an accident occurred and they should get in touch with the police. I left it at that because that’s the only reasonable thing I could do. It wasn’t my place to break this “news.” I didn’t have the information they’d need.

And if this was reversed and I was the one getting word that someone I loved died, I better not hear it from a newspaper intern. That’s not how it’s supposed to be.

It comes down to this: You either can do this kind of work or you can’t. I can’t.

I went to school with people who got into that side of journalism. I worked with a bunch of those folks, too. I admire them in many ways.

But there’s no excuse for barging into someone’s grief. I cannot accept that, even if I otherwise like the person doing the barging.

A comment from the crying mother or the photo of a grief-stricken new widower is not necessary. But there you are, prying it out of them during one of the worst moments of their lives.

If you choose this line of work and you do these kinds of things, so be it. But don’t hide behind the job or journalism or public good.

There is no explanation. There is no justification.

Hey, journalists, this is why you need a blog

A phenomenal post from Jason Fry at the National Sports Journalism Center:

When I started Faith and Fear in Flushing with my friend Greg Prince in the winter of 2005, I’d been at The Wall Street Journal Online for nearly 10 years. But despite all that time as a Web guy, I’d adopted some rather unhealthy attitudes. I was studiously uninterested in knowing how many readers read my columns, and only took a passing interest in their reactions to them. I thought that my job was to be a thinker and a writer. Worrying about traffic numbers? That was somebody else’s job – and a lesser calling.

This was arrogant and dumb, and a few weeks of writing Faith and Fear showed me that. On my own blog, the numbers were of immense interest to me. I pored over them every day in an effort to figure out what posts were connecting with readers and what posts weren’t. I was singing for my supper, and it made me a better columnist. If a column was well written but didn’t seem to connect, I wasn’t happy with it. I no longer dismissed Web traffic as not my job, complained about writing promos for my stuff, or gave reader comments and emails short shrift. And I realized those folks on the business side were critical to our collective success, and could teach me things. [Emphasis added.]

I’ll add this: journalism’s biggest mistake was allowing business apathy/hatred among the editorial ranks. That’s a far more egregious “sin” than publishing free Web content.