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Front Page » April 24, 2007 » Opinion » Tragedy deserves space and dignity
Published 2,553 days ago

Tragedy deserves space and dignity


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

Last Monday was a black day in Blacksburg.

In fact last week was a black period of time in many ways in many places. It was the anniversary of the Oklahoma bombings and Columbine High School shootings. It was also a week in which a Johnson Space Center employee killed his boss and then himself.

In Iraq a huge bombing in a marketplace that was being rebuilt by construction workers killed well over 100 people.

And here in Price the week ended badly as a small boy died in a fire in Price.

It seems bad news seems to come in groups. And often the media makes the most of it too.

There are three things I really hate about the news coverage on all kinds of tragedies.

First is the reporter who shoves a microphone in the face of a family member who has lost a loved one and asks "How do you feel?"

I always think "How the hell do you think they feel?"

Death in a family, no matter what the circumstances should be a private moment. A wire service photo that almost every news source ran right after the Trolley Square shootings showed a police officer with a automatic weapon pointing it down the mall with the body of a dead victim on the floor right in front of him. True it was a dramatic photo, but it gave that person and her family no privacy, no dignity. While in the past the Sun Advocate has been guilty of some of this kind of thing as well, in the last couple of years we have tried to keep those kinds of graphic photos out of our paper. We also seldom interview family members right after a tragedy; they have enough on their minds without having to fool around with reporters asking questions.

Second, I hate it when the broadcast news uses a news person as a source for a story. Sometimes a news person is the only one on the scene, but he or she only knows what they know from their point of view. News people themselves are only witnesses to events, like any other witness. They are not official sources.

Finally, while every story has a human side, stories, particularly breaking stories, should stick to the facts and leave any suppositions or suggestions out of it. While tragedy involves a lot of emotion, a news story should involve facts that are proven and come from officials sources. A story about the human side of the event, and its long and short term effects, can always be done later, when some of the sting of the tragedy has dulled.

In the scramble to "get the news first" I feel that many broadcast journalists, and some written word journalists as well, step over the bounds of good taste and even the truth sometimes. It is what I call the tabloid effect.

If people want conjecture and non-facts they can call up any blog on the Internet, written by anyone they want, to get their own set of facts. In the early days of newspapers and even into the 20th century there was a lot of editorializing on the front pages of newspapers everywhere. It took many years to get away from that.

Now it seems we have returned to those days, which is a step backwards in my book.


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