Thursday, August 27, 2015

Welcome to my world

This one is personal.

We run a lot of stories every day in print and online.

A lot of those stories deal with very sad, tragic incidents.

And the bottom line is that a lot of those stories also make some people very angry.

They are upset about what we reported, sometimes they way we reported it, or simply are looking to vent at someone at the newspaper. That usually brings them to me.

Every day I field phone calls from readers who are irate with something we've reported.

Sometimes they even come into the office.

It's not exactly a part of the job that I relish. But it's also one of the most important things I do here every day. I always listen carefully to what the people have to say, and offer an explanation as to why we did what we did.

I also almost always someone who is unhappy with our coverage the opportunity to write a letter or a piece for our op-ed pages offering their version of events or why they think we got it wrong.

I'll be honest. Sometimes we just flat got something wrong. When that happens, we correct that information.

But most of the time, I'm in a situation where I know I am not going to assuage this person's visceral feelings for me - or the newspaper. I understand why that is. Many times these people are grieving and simply want to vent. If they want to yell at someone for awhile, I allow them to do that.

Sometimes people who are upset with the newspaper are not satisfied with a phone call. Sometimes they want to tell me what they think face to face.

When that happens, I bring them into my office and again listen intently to what they have to say. I offer my version, and again usually they just want to tell me what they think. I give them that opportunity.

I was thinking about that yesterday as I followed the details of the horrific incident in Virginia where a television reporter and her cameraman were gunned down while they were doing a live report. Both died. The woman they were interviewing was wounded but is expected to recover.

In this case, it turned out the suspect, who later took his own life, was a disgruntled employee.

Two things went through my mind as I followed the story.

One, I wonder just what it is that could push a person to that edge, and the many times I've dealt with people who felt aggrieved at something the newspaper did. It's not an especially comforting feeling.

But in the ensuing unsettling minutes and hours, I again confronted something about what I do for a living that was less than reassuring.

The way we deliver information to readers has fundamentally changed. When an incident such as yesterday's tragedy occurs, the early-morning timing of the event makes print seem like eons away. We won't print again until the next morning. It becomes an online story. And that is part of the problem.

We are not alone online.

The gunman in this case (I don't feel the need to use his name and give him a morsel of what he wanted) captured the entire incident on video and posted it online.

It's a lit

tle bit like knocking over that first domino in one of those intricate displays. You sit back and watch it cascade from there. The video exploded on social media. It was all over Twitter and Facebook, as was the live video from the TV station. The shooter's Facebook post containing the video he shot quickly "went viral," which is the new buzzword of our lives. At least at first.

The auto-play feature on many Twitter and Facebook accounts meant the video played even before some people realized what it was.

Fairly quickly the online world was abuzz with something else, pleas not to view or share the shocking video.

That's called editing. That's the kind of decision I make every day.

We did not use or post the video. We also did not use any of the stills taken from the video that wire services moved yesterday that clearly show the suspect pointing a gun at his victim.

Today we mourn reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward, killed while doing their jobs, something we do every day.

And we wonder about the world we live in, our role in it, and the job we do every day.

Yesterday, I had a fundamental decision to make as the editor of the Daily Times and DelcoTimes.com. But every user of social media and consumer of online information got to make a similar decision.

Welcome to my world.

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