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.

1 comment:

Dan said...

What could you have done differently? Folks seem to think that reporters have access to high-level, super-top-secret double-black-belt classified information that ordinary people don't. Not true. You can only go by what "ordinary people" tell you. And, as a result, judging by this tale, the paper ought to be full of a lot more colorful metaphors than it currently is.

I've often though that, just as police run "citizens' police academies," newspapers ought to run "readers' journalism classes," giving folks a hands-on introduction to the who, what, when, where, why, how and so what of what reporters, editors and photographers do. Might help to reduce some of the ill will out there once they see that journalists aren't scum, just "ordinary people" trying to do a very tough job that impacts so many other people.