Some reporters do it for the story, the “scoop”, the exclusive.
Some reporters do it for the rush.
Others do it because they know that in the long run, it will only help those in mourning. It gives them a chance to tell their story.
While I think everyone should be given the time to grieve, I don’t think all reporters are evil for approaching those who have recently experienced tragedy. I know this because I used to be a reporter, and I have been told by the people and families involved in tragedy, how thankful they are that I wrote about their situation.
After I graduated from Indiana University with a degree in Journalism, I was ready to be a sports reporter. I knew I’d probably start out small, covering high school sports, but I never imagined I’d end up having to take a job as the crime/police writer for a small newspaper in Georgia. But I accepted the job at the LaGrange Daily News in LaGrange, Georgia.
I had been there less than a month when a drowning happened on the 4th of July. Roderious Laye was his name. He was 12 years old. It’s sad, but all seems so cut and dry when you’re reading a police report that is simply filled with statements about what happened. I called and spoke with someone at the Sheriff’s department, wrote up a couple hundred words about what happened and went about my business until the next day at work.
Apparently this wasn’t the first drowning in recent history, and my editor wanted me to do a deeper story on what happened to Roderious. She wanted me to go interview his family members. I was horrified. Within a few days of losing their child, I was to go and ask them all about it? Why on earth would they want to talk to me?
My editor set up the interview, and before I knew it I was in the car with our photographer, Mike, who would take photos while I interviewed the family. I had no idea what to expect, only that my heart hurt and I wanted to cry before we even walked up the steps to the front door. I had never been so nervous, but the family was extremely welcoming and put me at ease almost immediately.
They loved talking about Roderious. Even his little brother had lots to say about him. The two of them were huge Dallas Mavericks fans and loved to play baseball. We had a wonderful time talking about Roderious, but then came the difficult part- talking about what had happened only a few days prior. His mother was in tears, and his father sat and rubbed her back while she spoke of how her sweet boy drown at a family gathering at the lake.
I cried, too. I cry now just thinking about it.
We finished the interview, said our goodbyes, and I got in the car with Mike. And then I cried some more. I felt bad. Was it unprofessional? Was I supposed to keep it all together? Mike comforted me and said, “Natalie, people want to see your heart. That’s why they opened up to you. They could tell that you cared, and that’s why they shared their story.”
Apparently I did a pretty good job of sharing their story with the readers of the LaGrange Daily News, and Mike got some moving photos of the family that day we were there. Because not long after the funeral, his family bought ad space in the paper to run a photo of Roderious and to thank some people for helping them through the tough times after the tragic event, and there in the list was, “Natalie and Mike from the LaGrange Daily News.”
I won a decent amount of awards in the short time I was a newspaper reporter, but those mean so little compared to having a family say you helped them through the death of their son by the words that you wrote.
So if you’re wondering about all these stories being told about the children and adults who were killed in Newtown last week, just know that many, probably most, of the families are more than happy to be interviewed. They WANT to share their stories. They want their loved one to be remembered.
I can’t tell this story without mentioning a kind act from one of the richest men in the world. Like I said, Roderious and his younger brother were huge Dallas Mavericks fans. I had hung out with the owner, Mark Cuban, a few times at IU because we had some mutual friends. (Cuban is a fellow IU grad.) I emailed Mark, told him what had happened and asked if there was anything he could send me to give to Roderious’s little brother. Mark came through like a champ. He sent hats, shirts, cards, and even a Dirk Nowitzki autograph, as well as a card from the Maverick’s family that said, “Thinking of you in this tough time.”
A man worth a couple BILLION dollars didn’t have to take the time to do that, but he did.