Wednesday, September 12, 2012

When a sad story is big news

Multimedia Editor Samantha Youngman and I had a conversation yesterday about the conflicting emotions newspeople experience when a big story comes along that's also a tragedy.

Sam's dad was a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, and his newsroom, like all newsrooms, got excited when a big, tragic story was breaking. I had a similar experience in a Twin Cities TV newsroom in 1986 when the space shuttle exploded, killing everyone aboard.

Gathering facts and racing a deadline to report them gets the adrenalin pumping and makes the journalists covering the story almost euphoric over the opportunity to do what they do best: report the news.

It does feels ghoulish (at least to me) to get excited over human tragedies such as the Challenger explosion or the Brett Olson disappearance. But I think being a journalist in the middle of a tragic story doing a professional job of telling that story is a reason to celebrate what we do.

Here's why.

The thorough and professional job of reporting the Olson story that Orion reporters and editors did meant that rumors were kept under control, the authorities were able to get help with the search and the community learned the facts of the tragedy from reliable sources.

Maybe more important, The Orion's efforts and the efforts of other journalists brought the campus and city communities together to support the Olsons and one another.

I think journalism is at its best when it can create and foster community, even when the circumstances are awful. You should be proud (if not happy) that you could be part of it.

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