Tuesday, December 04, 2007

If only civilized society was a little more civil

Being in the news business means having to deal with the underbelly of the human race.
And I'm not talking about murderers and rapists.
I'm talking about people who weren't paying attention when their parents were teaching them manners.
I'm talking about people who call the newsroom to scream (and that is no exaggeration) profanities about something we did or didn't write.
Here's what happened today:
We had a story in the paper about an Elyria truck driver who was killed in an accident.
It's tough getting details about a fatal car accident.
It's even tougher getting details about the person who was killed.
On deadline. When no or few family phone numbers are listed.
Well, our reporter, Steve Szucs, got the details of the crash.
But he was determined to get more, to tell the whole story -- of not just the accident itself but of the man who lost his life in it.
Steve got lucky. He went through the phone book, dialing numbers until he found the victim's aunt.
She seemed close to the victim. She was broken up about his death. She had a photograph of him that she gave us to put in the paper.
And she told us he didn't have any kids.
Well, guess what? It turns out the victim had a son, a 10-year-old son.
How did we find that out?
By someone who called this morning after reading the story to tell us how incompetent we were.
By someone else who called to tell us to get out stories straight.
And by a dozen other people with similar sentiments -- none of them, to my knowledge, family of the victim.
And finally, in the capper this evening, by a woman who called us every name in the book with f'ing as an adjective for each of those names.
Who ARE these people?
They walk among us.
Let's just hope they aren't walking behind us down a dark alley.

By the way, we made plans to recify our error after the very first phone call.
While we feel bad about the error, frankly, I don't know how we could have done anything differently. Or if we will do anything differently next time.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Soon you'll call -- and someone will answer

Guess where I'm going tomorrow?
To training for our new phone system.
Yes, soon, very soon, you will be able to reach us on our phones again.
Or at least leave us voicemail.
For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about, we have had only a very limited number of phones since the roof leaked over our phone-room months ago.
Worse, we have had no voicemail.
If you've tried unsuccessfully to reach any of us recently, you know how frustrating it can be.
Imagine how things have been on our end. I have a cell phone and that is the number I list in the paper. That one I pick up. That one takes voicemail.
But sometimes people call my old number, the land line.
Which rings on a phone across the room, a phone that also rings a couple other numbers. Sometimes I get up to answer it and sometimes I don't (sorry).
But soon (I've been assured), there will be a phone on every desk.
A phone that works.

Gay guy furious we reported he was HIV-positive

I got an e-mail today from a very angry man who is HIV-positive.
He was mad because we put his name in a story.
"He had no right to disclose legally protected information," he wrote about our reporter.
Then the HIV-positive man demanded I fire the reporter and advised me to contact our lawyer.
Well, here's the problem. I don't think we did anything wrong.
You see, we included his name in the story because his mother was talking about him during an event to mark World AIDS Day. We covered the event.
What his mother said was compelling: She said she had trouble dealing with it when her son told her 15 years ago that he and his partner were HIV positive. She also said she was shunned by some of her friends.
"I couldn't believe it. I walked out of the room. I couldn't talk to him that day," she said. "I had to learn to love him, accept him and not point any fingers."
We named her and her son in the story because she named her and her son at the event.
I e-mailed the son a response to his note.
"At the event, several people spoke about their loved ones," I wrote. "Our reporter wrote down what was said at the public gathering and then wrote a story about it.
"If I was at a public event such as that – and I am a longtime journalist – I would assume that anybody whose name is mentioned has given the person mentioning it permission to do so. Why would a reporter think otherwise?"
The son phoned me before he got the e-mail.
The only non-hostile word he spoke was "Hello, my name is ..."
And then he started yelling. Not a good approach when you are trying to get a point across.
And then he called me "sweetie." Not a good thing to call a stranger you are trying to convince of anything.
Then he called the reporter the OTHER f-word, the racial slur for homosexuals.
I threatened to hang up on him and he settled down.
He asked to have his name pulled from the story that was online.
I agreed to do it -- without reservation. I understand the situation it put him in.
I also understand that when we cover an event or a meeting, it is our job simply to report what we saw and heard there.
And the more specific we can get, the better.