Saturday, December 15, 2012

Pity the Reporters (Seriously)

The press blitz fascinates me. By "press blitz", I mean my email box. And my unlisted cell phone's voice mail. As I just posted to the Book of Faces, disaster reporting, like nature, abhors a vacuum. No one's been tap dancing on-camera about victims, and the media's gone batshit crazy, practically begging casual acquaintances to come forward and sate the voracious thirst. Reporters hate doing this - they well understand that everyone's grieving - but it's their job. Gotta feed the machine.

It would be easy, especially if I were more closely linked to victims, to label these reporters as vultures (in fact, I myself used the term "vulturish" somewhere around here today). But the fact is, these guys are plainly mortified about doing what their job compels them to do today. Here's a representative example, nearly heartbreaking if you read between the lines:

I have the sorry job of trying to explain to an inquiring world who Nancy Lanza was, and what happened with her son. I loved the story you told on your blog, and would like to join the queue of those who'd like to speak with you.


It obviously sucks to be them now. In the world of drugs, the poor coca farmers are only responding to a voracious, unrelenting demand. Same with the poor reporters. The vultures are us. Those guys are just scrambling to deliver our fix.

I've started writing more sympathetic kiss-off responses. I'm really afraid some of these people are on the verge of cracking. Can someone get them some coffee and blankets or something?


Rogers Cadenhead said...

I'm a former newspaper reporter. I think you greatly overestimate how badly a reporter feels about the job he or she is tasked with doing.

We love chasing stories and gaining the confidence of a source.

Playing the "I'm sorry I have to do this" card is a standard tactic for winning somebody over.

Jim Leff said...

Thanks for posting, Rogers.

I didn't mean to say that reporters hate reporting. They are, indeed, juiced and energized when events like this occur and they find themselves in a competitive scrum, trying to tie together pieces in fresh and insightful ways, be the first to ferret out sources, etc. That's what they do!

But the specific act of actually confronting someone grieving and getting them to cough up nuggets.....that specific part I think most of them genuinely dislike, on a personal (not professional) level.

An analogy would be those Daily Show field pieces where the reporters completely openly mock their subjects. Those guys are comedians, and they LIKE mockery, and they LIKE being on the Daily Show, and they LIKE making audiences laugh. But one reason for the high turnover there is that most of them are a bit horrified about having to do that to people, specifically, even though they love mocking in a general way, and love the overarching process of producing comedy for TV.

Yeah, I got plenty of funeral director sanctimonious bullshit preambles (" I am sooooo sorry for your loss") and saw through it immediately. But at the actual moment of hooking, I perceived no suppressed relish, just a layer of personal embarrassment stoically wrapped around a much deeper level of burning desperation to fill the vacuum of info on these victims (if that desperation wasn't there, they wouldn't have been contacting someone like me who's essentially the victim's cousin's barber).

Make more sense now that I clarified?

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