Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Another Take on Telling the Stories

Yesterday's Facebook exchange between my daughter and a high school classmate who's now a newspaper reporter:
Thoughts of the day:
 . . .
 4.) Seeing that there are interviews being shown with family members who have just lost someone in a horrific, violent way makes me want to smack some selfish reporters and news execs. What would possess you to intrude on families in this time of grief so that you can televise their pain?
 As a reporter, here's what I say when I contact a family who has just been involved in something tragic: "Hi, my name is J and I'm a reporter with xxxx. First of all, I am so sorry to bother you right now and I am so sorry for your loss. Please let me know if there is anything we can do for you. I just wanted to let you know we will be doing a story on your loved one, and if there's anything you would like to say, we'd love to know what kind of person he/she was." Readers/viewers don't see that conversation, but it happens more than you might think.
 Honestly J, I appreciate that you try to be as considerate as possible, and I think asking for a statement is different than asking for a live interview, but I still find it distasteful. I am incredibly thankful that when I lost my brother it was not in any kind of public incident. If someone had asked me for a statement I would probably have told them to go f* themselves. The reality is that there is a time and a place to publicly celebrate someone's life and share stories and that is the funeral. If the family chooses to have a public funeral that's an excellent place to learn about the person's life. I see no reason to intrude on someone prior to that event, other than selfish curiosity. I mean no disrespect to your profession and I know there are people who disagree with me.
No disrespect taken at all! I've certainly had mixed reactions from people. Some say a very polite "no thank you" and others talk for almost an hour. When I was working in a smaller town, I also liked to tell them personally that there was going to be a story, because I didn't want them to be shocked by it the next day. Especially if it involves something like a car accident, and there's going to be photos, I want to warn them first. I had the mother of a teenager come into our office and thank me for doing stories about her son, and interviewing lots of people, because it was a way to honor her son and to make sure people would remember him. But like I said, every family and every reporter is different.
It sounds like you do a really excellent job and It definitely makes sense to inform someone about a story and to celebrate people. What I can't get my head around is why people are so eager to get those stories out there while family's wounds are fresh. I saw about a minute of a video (which I didn't know before hand was of the family) that I quickly stopped watching because the family looked so shell shocked and they were speaking in such a detached way that I think they will likely regret having agreed to do the interview at all. Most of the people I know who have lost someone would love to see a story about a year later, when everyone except them has forgotten, not two days into the worst experience of their life. I hope you have an opportunity to do a story, if you haven't already, celebrating someone's life at a time when their family can engage with you and appreciate the recognition. Maybe sometimes that happens a few days after a tragic loss, but its far more likely to happen a few months or years later.
Love that girl of mine.


  1. Just now reading all of your posts on Friday's events. And weeping again. Thank you, Robin, for your brutal honesty and portrayal of what these families are experiencing. Along with so many of us.

  2. Among other things, your daughter is a beautiful, insightful, and thought-provoking writer, just like her mother!

  3. Marissa is wise and beautiful beyond her years.

  4. Marissa reminds me of her mama. Pretty remarkable young woman. Thank you for sharing this with us...