One thing the media should never do is give up ground earned.
In Saturday’s edition (Feb. 25) of The Alpena News, Publisher/Editor Justin Hinkley stated he thought it was a good idea for signs to be handed out to people in times of tragedy to let the media know they don’t want to be interviewed.
It is sad to read this from a journalist.
He drew his conclusion with the shooting incident at Michigan State University and an incident he had as a reporter covering a story on the Boston Marathon bombing. His job was to localize it with a female runner from his community.
His job was trying to find the woman and get her reactions. Hinkley could not track the runner down, but found a contact through the woman’s daughter. It just happened that his call broke the news to her that there was a bombing during the race.
The daughter quickly hung up and tried to contact her mother. About an hour later, Hinkley said, the daughter called back and said she felt he had been careless in the way he presented himself on the phone and broke the news of the bombing in a heartless way. She told him to never call again and to never reach out to her mother and hung up.
Any journalist who has been in the business long enough will encounter such stories. I had my share of stories covering death and destruction, and having to make decisions in a matter of seconds in such instances.
They are not pleasant, but, if handled discreetly, and with empathy, they can be some of the best stories ever done. In Hinkley’s case, it did not turn out that way. If Hinkley could have overcome the barrier, it would have made for an insightful story with local ties.
People want to tell their side of a tragic event. There is nothing closer to the truth than talking to an eyewitness or someone involved in an event.
That brings us to the crux of Michigan State University handing out signs that say “no media please.” Granted, what took place on the campus several weeks ago goes beyond tragedy. It is an event in which the reasons never may be known. To block out the media, though, is going too far.
Imagine something like this being done at every tragedy. With the reputation the media has garnered now, there never would be interviews from those who were on the front line. They could just hold up a sign and say “don’t bother me.” That would go for local journalists, as well, who have a sense of the community norms and morals.
The national media tends to spin stories to fit their needs, but, for most local journalists, such is not the case. Having signs at every tragedy would make a local journalist’s job even more difficult. The real stories would be missed and the usefulness of a local newspaper to inform the community dwindles even further.
To hear a journalist state signs blocking interviews are a good idea should make those in the industry shudder.
A journalist with the proper training knows when to step back. If respect, empathy, and tact are shown, the story can be obtained. Signs are not needed.
Any journalist worth his or her salt, should be appalled by such a notion. No, we do not want to cause undue harm, but our readers, listeners, and viewers want to know. If a person does not want to talk, then we move on to someone else. We do not need a sign to tell us this.
By issuing signs blocking interviews, it is the first step in curbing the media even more than what it is now. As the saying goes, you give an inch and they will take a mile. I am sure journalists do not want to see this happen — especially local journalists.
Richard Crofton is a former managing editor of The Alpena News, and has had roles as reporter, copy editor, editor and publisher in his three decades of service in the newspaper industry.