Days like yesterday, like Sept. 11 and the Newton shootings make me want to crawl in a hole and pretend nothing is going on out there. The negative energy, the fear, the feeling of hopelessness and helplessness can be overwhelming.
Yet in my industry I must do the exact opposite; I have to jump right in and get in the middle of the news. I have to find local connections to whatever the most recent tragedy is and then write about it. And I get attached to it, at times unable to tear my eyes away from the television or online news accounts of what is going on.
And when I leave the confines of the newsroom this tragedy comes with me. When I go home my husband and I spend a good bit of time talking about what happened, our feelings about it and how we think it impacts our world. It is part of the makeup of a newshound; something we both are.
But that doesn’t make those feelings of fear, sadness and hopelessness go away. At times it is actually intensified. I feel personally affected by these tragic events; both those on a national level and the many that I’ve covered directly on a local level.
I know what I am feeling doesn’t hold a candle to what the victims and their families and friends feel. But journalists have feelings too.
When I lived in Alexandria, La., and covered the police beat for The Town Talk, I was face to face with tragedy on a regular, sometimes daily, basis. In October 2007, I was less than a block away as a deadly and bloody standoff at an attorney’s office lasted hours. In the end six were shot; three died including the postman who was there delivering mail, the adult son of one of the attorneys and the gunman.
I heard the call over the police scanner when it first came out of “shots fired;” our office was just a few blocks away. The photographer and I arrived just after the very first police officers did and before the majority of law enforcement. We found a spot and hunkered down for more than 11 hours; she snapped pictures and I took notes. When I saw a bloody man being carried out by rescue workers running to avoid the shots ringing out, my stomach wretched. The hail of gunfire when the police finally raided the law office was terrifying.
But during those moments I was furiously taking notes and not thinking about the tragedy happening right before my eyes. Late that night, still at the scene, I got a call from a friend. The postman killed was the father of one of the kids in the youth group I’d been volunteering my time to help. It put a face to the tragedy; now it was even harder to handle.
There have been countless other shootings, homicides, fires and other tragedies I’ve witnessed and covered and each one moves and affects me. I’m a journalist doing my job, but I’m still human.
People are often critical of folks like me; but those same people who degrade me for writing these stories are the ones reading them; the ones who also have a need to know what happened. We have a responsibility to report about what happened both with the hard news facts but also with the story about who those victims were and how the tragedy affects the community.
I’ve found that families feel blessed by the opportunity to talk about their loved ones. Instead of the story just saying “John Smith was murdered,” the story talks about what a wonderful husband Smith was and how much he loved his children.
And when I come home at night after either covering or hearing about tragic events like the bombs during the Boston Marathon yesterday that killed at least three and injured more than 100, I hug my hubby and son a little tighter. I am yet again reminded of how lucky I am to have my family.
I’m going to do my best not to think, talk about or dwell on all those negative things in the world, that feeling of helplessness and fear of what kind of a world my son will have to grow up in. Instead, I will remember that people are still overwhelmingly good. There are still people out there who are kind and selfless. That’s what I want to show Miles and to focus on. I will not define society by these horrible actions of just a few.
How do you handle talking to your children about tragedy? What are your thoughts about these recent events?