Downright Good Thought: If you’re going to report on a tragedy…just give the facts, please.

At one time in my life, I was going to be a journalist. This was just moments before I contemplated pursuing a professional baseball career and if that wasn’t going to work out, I’d take up instructing rock climbing.

Yeah, I had big plans early on.

Considering how a life of pro baseball was far beyond my reach and I’m deathly afraid of heights, I ruled out two of my three options and focused more on journalism. I enjoyed my classes in high school and wanted to keep at it through college if I could. That didn’t happen though but I kept on writing nonetheless. And now that I engage in this writing thing more now than ever before, I recollect on the teachings I endured when I first started the gig. And more specifically: journalistic writing.

If you’ve ever taken a journalism class, then you know a few basic principles to follow: check your spelling, report the facts, and know thy order of events. Good standards to live by, but not everyone can catch bad spelling 100% of the time before a story gets to print. We’re all human and we make mistakes; even when it comes to writing. And yes, you must do your best to make sure that the facts you receive, are indeed, the facts.

But if there’s one thing that rarely seems to get screened before reaching “final print status”, it’s the sensationalism we find in news reports. The job of a reporter is to report the news. Plain and simple. If there’s an upcoming event, a major ruling by the Supreme Court, or a deadly breakout of ringworm (ew…) then hey, I’d like to know about it. I’ll even fancy a helpful explanation on why cold fronts occur for good measure. Problem is though, reports are rarely presented in black and white. The news is often written with bias and a flare for the dramatic in order to attract a larger audience.

I say these things because of the horrible events that took place in Aurora, Colorado. Families lost their children because of some distrubed individual who lost touch with reality and adding to the tragedy, news stations couldn’t seem to help themselves with all the coverage on the topic. I read a few articles on MSN to catch up on what had transpired, but I had a difficult time following the facts through all the theatrical narrative. My hope is that the families affected by the shooting remain unaware of the movie-like scripts generated in the aftermath.

In the wake of this situation, I say shame on those of you who wrote such stories about the shooting. If you want attention via dramatic interpretation, then become an actor. Better yet, become a director. But if you intend on being a reporter, then be a reporter. I’m sure that if it were your children or family involved, you’d want some level of sensitivity during this grieving period. I’m so grateful to have free market reporting (truly I am), but where is the line drawn between human compassion and opportunistic marketing?

For the sake of those who lost loved ones, my heart goes out to you. My hope is that the recovery process be a healthy one full of support from those close to you.

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