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Do you want the truth?
June 8, 2011 - Jodelle Greiner
First of all, thank you to all those who have been on the comment boards on this website supporting reporter Jenn Brookens and the Sentinel on the coverage of the murder/suicide in Imogene. Believe me, it’s always an uplifting thing when a reporter gets a little praise.
That’s because it’s such an unusual experience for us. Typically, we get kicked by people who think they can do our jobs better, even though they don’t have a clue, or people who are criticizing us for what we print, even though they don’t know why we write what we do.
We actually get used to the criticism, as much as you can get used to people ranting at you, but this last round was particularly vicious and I feel compelled to remind the general public of a few things that govern what we do.
First, I want to point out a good share of the staff here have kids, some of whom are old enough or soon will be old enough to get online and read these comments for themselves. I know it’s real easy to spew that vitriol when your name isn’t attached to it, but stop and think: do you really want some little kid reading what you’ve just written about their parent?
Lately everyone’s been on the bandwagon about why we print all the “gory” details. You don’t want “blood” mentioned, you don’t want the details of what a sex offender does, you don’t want to know anything about domestic violence cases, you don’t want this or that. Let me ask, would you rather we watered it down for you? Heck yes, we can do that, we can make it bland as baby food, but do you want it that way? Do you want us making that decision for you?
It is not our job to dissect the news for you. It is our job to report, as accurately as possible, what happened so you can make up your minds about it. When you criticize us for giving you more information than you think you want, you are shirking your duty as citizens. It is our job to tell you what’s going on; it’s your job to do something about it.
If we did start withholding news and details because we thought you couldn’t handle it, wouldn’t you start to question our reporting? Wouldn’t you always wonder if we were telling you all the truth? Or even presenting what happened truthfully? Once you start editing facts, it’s a slippery slope and it’s too easy to cross the line into untruthfulness. Wouldn’t you rather know we were always being honest with you, even if sometimes it was brutally so?
This does not mean that we forget there are survivors. I personally have reported on the deaths of children from cancer. As a reporter, you have to find the words to convey the unspeakable. We try to be sensitive, yet we still have to report the facts. That is not an easy job and, believe me, we do not do it cavalierly.
Another point: death records are public records. As soon as you die, that fact is public. Legally, we don’t have to wait for the police to give us “permission” to print it. Over the years, the profession of journalism has done the police the courtesy of allowing them time to notify the family of the deceased so that they receive the news in a professional, controlled environment. We do not do this so that the family doesn’t get the news from the newspaper. Journalists report the news in a professional manner, but once we put that news in the paper or online, we have no control over who reads it when. What we fear is your neighbor down the street getting their paper before you and running over in their bathrobe and fuzzy slippers, going “Yoo-hoo, I just heard your loved one was killed in that crash yesterday. The paper said he was transported to the hospital, so that means he didn’t die right away, right?” Believe me, there will be some insensitive clod who will say that and worse.
We know this because we hear the rumors. When the cop and bystander were shot last fall, we knew a good deal about what had happened from being at the scene and listening to the scanner, but what we were hearing in the public sector was that six cops and three civilians had been shot and the house blew up because it was a meth lab. Yet, when we posted breaking news online that ONE cop had been shot, we were castigated for it. Would you rather listen to the lurid rumors or get the facts? Sometimes I think you really would rather hear and spread the rumors rather than know the facts.
We tell you these things so you know what’s going on. When someone is shot and killed, one of the first things we ask is whether there is any danger to the public. It’s our job to let you know if you need to protect yourself. If there is no danger to you, you can use the information we print to help make a difference in your community. You can help the family of accident victims or at least make sure you don’t say something that will make the situation worse.
If you don’t want to hear what’s going on in your community, then stick your head down a gopher hole and leave it there. If that’s the way you want to handle it, fine, then do so. But don’t tell the media we shouldn’t do our job and inform your friends and neighbors. There are some out there who want to know what’s going on around them. Remember, next time you might be the one needing their help. If they don’t know, how can they reach out?
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