Fellow blogger Tom Devine has been writing on and off about news coverage in The Republican (our daily paper here and part of the Newhouse empire) and the nature of what is news. This is, of course, someone in my position thinks about alot. Ideally, I think what goes into a newspaper, magazine or on a blog under the guise of news should have some value to to a reader – either it can enlighten or entertain.
Unfortunately another "e-word" is used instead: exploit.
The Republican has a long history of exploiting local, state and national events in their paper in ways that are worse that tabs. With a tab you know there is going to be sensationalism. In a broadsheet there is supposed to be respectability.
The guys and gals at The Republican who dream up the crap they serve us are not alone. The local TV stations like giving us a diet of fear and titillation as well.
If you don't see it as much as I do perhaps it's because I've been re-sensitized to how members of my profession behave. Read below and you'll see.
If you watch the "Today" show, you know that during the 7:30 a.m. half-hour they usually open the show with a story involving some sort of tragedy: a missing child, a murder, a natural disaster. As a human being and a news person, I'm always a bit disturbed that a national news organization frequently picks stories that exploit someone's loss.
A news story should serve the interests of the consumers, but not pander to their fears or appeal to them as worthless gossip.
I've wanted to write about something that happened in our family, but I didn't want to be accused of doing something similar to what I detest in so much of the "news" these days the parade of victims who are presented to us as some sort of grim, gossipy form of entertainment.
Luckily my sister-in-law Josephine has given me the angle that I needed.
Last summer my wife received a crushing phone call. Her favorite cousin Ann had been savagely murdered. Last week her husband was convicted for the crime.
I do not wish to go into any of the details. Although we were aware there were issues in the marriage my wife had advised Ann to seek help no one in the family ever thought an event of this magnitude would ever happen.
Having something such as this take place in your own family to people you care most about is almost unthinkable. It is almost surreal to speak with a reporter in an effort to get additional information only to be asked if you're willing to make a statement or supply a family photograph.
To read coverage of the event and to see Ann's photo splashed on the cover of newspapers reminded me that what is a tragedy to a small group of people is simply crime news to a larger audience.
As I read the stories, I never saw what I thought should be underscored: that domestic violence affects every race and every economic demographic. Educated, affluent people are involved in domestic violence as well as people who live in mobile home parks. There are no stereotypes when it comes to this issue.
The news reports were obviously consumed with the very sordid and profoundly sad details of the case, but not with the bigger picture, not with the message that might help others.
My sister-in-law is collecting used cell phones in Ann's memory to donate to local domestic violence programs to give women a lifeline to help. If you have one that's collecting dust, erase your information from it, and bring it and the charger to our offices here at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow.
If you don't have a cell phone, but would like to help local women who are suffering from domestic violence, please consider writing a check out to Womanshelter/Companeras, P.O. Box 1099, Holyoke, MA 01041.
I think a news story about a tragedy should seek to prevent such an event from happening again. If you are suffering from abuse call Womanshelter at 1-877-536-1628.
Since my column ran in the papers I edit, I've received over a dozen cell phones for donation. Perhaps these will help a woman make the call to help save her life.
© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs