Monday, December 17, 2012

The Ripple Effects

Reporters show up at tragedies like what happened in Newton on Friday like maggots at a gravesite, some people will tell you, and because there are basically no rules for something like this, inevitably someone will step over some boundary of taste and/or ethics. And yet who else do we turn to in order to satisfy our insatiable curiosity to know: What happened? How many? How? And for God's sake, why?

Reporters are the people get the unenviable job of knocking on doors to ask grieving families to part with that picture you saw this morning of that sweet six-year-old--because you want to see that, don't you? And not out of purient curiosity, but because you are grieving, too, and you need a face to attach to your grief. Reporters see the bundled bodies, the bloodstains. They see mothers and fathers collapse, screaming, or faint from shock. The see hardened police officers crying like babies. When they feeling like crying themselves, or going home to hug and comfort their own kids, they are on deadline, calling every name in an old high school yearbook, searching for some clue, some person who can help us all make sense of what has happened. They walk toward that stuff, not away, and take pictures and notes and get the story out as best they can, however imperfectly that may be. There may be some sick souls among the media who groove out on horror, just as there are sick souls everywhere, but in all my years of reporting I didn't meet anyone who really fit that description.

You cannot ask a parent for a picture of their sweet six-year-old, and then ask for sympathy because the act of making that request was deeply traumatic for you, too, and it left a scar on your own soul. Your pain is nothing compared to the pain of the people who are at the horrifying center of this tragedy. In fact, for a member of the media to even raise this topic would be a violation of good taste, not to mention human decency. But as a former member of the media, I can.

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