Monday, April 6, 2009

Wretched Excess in the Local Media

The media often disgusts me. And I say that, after having worked in “the media” nearly all of my professional life. I guess it’s not the media, but many of the people who work in the media who disgust me. Like the guy my friend Dusty blogged about the other day, the guy sticking his camera in the faces of weeping family at Brittany Zimmermann’s memorial on campus Thursday.

My friend Barry Orton, who edits my friend Paul Soglin’s blog, also caught Dusty’s post and talked about the political angles, as related to the race for County Executive which culminates at the polls tomorrow.

I’m disgusted with the excess the media goes to, too often. Do we really need a CLOSE-UP of Brittany’s family shedding tears for their daughter whose life was brutally cut short by a killer still at large? Is the common denominator this unidentified photographer was aiming for so devoid of imagination that they can’t know the family is in mourning without seeing a close-up of the tears?
Dusty mentions that another old friend of mine, Joel DeSpain, one of the best local TV reporters and story-tellers the city ever had (before he went to work as a spokesman for the Madison police), tapped the offensive photographer on the shoulder and told him to back off.

In her many years of covering television news (before she went to work for UW-Health), my wife (who worked with DeSpain) was often assigned to do stories that involved families who’d just experienced tragedy. We talked about how must remember that we are human beings first and reporters second, that as representatives of the media, we must treat the victims of tragedy with the same respect and accord we’d expect. In all the great TV stories my wife (and Joel and their colleagues) did, they NEVER over-did the emotion. They made it obvious with their words and respectful pictures.

It’s sad, but for a number of reasons, the Toni Morrisseys and the Joel DeSpains of the local TV scene are disappearing, along with so many of their colleagues who were human beings and community members first - and reporters second. They could bring you the emotional impact of a tragic story without going to wretched excess.

But young folks like Dusty renew my hope that perhaps some of this new generation of reporters and media people will use their skills to tell tragic stories with respect, and without over-doing the raw emotion.

Dusty’s blog is titled “it’s all about the story”. Frank Sinatra used to say “it’s all about the song”. I’m not much of a believer in coincidences, but I do see parallels. There’s hope.

1 comment:

  1. Well, ya know, our generation is ALL about the hope...

    Thanks Tim... Your words are flattering and also a little intimidating. Our predecessors set a high bar.