Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The gory details

One of the things I dread most as a reporter, more than the day long town council meetings, or the disapproving sniffs , real or imagined, of the elderly when I'm the only one who doesn't know the hymns at the myriad of Christian-type events I cover, even more than the prospect of interviewing someone whose longest answer is a two syllable version of the word, "Nope" is the sound of the air raid-like siren that can be heard all over town whenever the fire department is about to head out.

You might think it would add some excitement to my day, but I'll take any of the above assignments over chasing the fire truck.

In fact, in the year that I've been here, I've only ever done it once. It was during my first few weeks here and I was the only reporter in the office when our scanner went off.

The ladies in the office all looked at me expectantly until I broke down and asked, "So, um, should I be doing something about that?" They insisted that I should go investigate.

So I drove out, whispering "Please be nothing, please be nothing, please be nothing" to the steering wheel, picturing myself all the while as a vulture with a car and a camera where wings and a beak should be.

It turned out to be an accident on a private farm. My mind instantly conjured up all the horrible things various types of farm equipment could do to a person and I knew, job or no job, there was no way I was going near it, so I circled once and flew back to the office.

Since then, I've actually managed to avoid chasing the fire truck altogether but it's amazing to me how often people think I should be on the scene of an accident, getting pictures of wrecked cars and broken bodies.

It's a strange responsibility, deciding what people should or shouldn't see. I remember when my neighbour was killed in a car accident, photos of the twisted and barely recognizable vehicle made the front page of our local paper. Maybe what we imagined happened to him would have been worse, but I don't think so. Seeing what he must have been trapped in was really horrifying.

I suppose it might have sent some people a warning, but I feel like we're so used to images like that, that the only people that image would have really effected where the people who knew the victims. I feel like it might have done more harm than good. If the paper had just run the story without the picture, I would have seen the headline, and maybe chosen not to read the gory details, but with the photo staring me in the face, there was no way to avoid them.

I know a picture paints a thousand words, but sometimes I don't think they need to be painted.


Elle Bee... said...

I completely agree. And as much as those images burn a warning in people's minds, they also become the last image people have of their loved one. Good for you and your journalistic integrity, my dear.

Kyla Roma said...

I totally agree too - I'm sensitive to that stuff, it stays in my head for way, way too long. I'm a total news junkie but I appreciate the ability to not have something burned in my mind without having a chance to know what I'm getting into. Discretion & privacy are still good things.

Mari said...

Good reporter! I agree. There is no reason other than prurient to see those kinds of images. Only emergency techs can learn from that carnage.

Mr. Apron said...

I can remember one day while working for my private transport ambulance company when my whacker partner had a scanner for his local volunteer rescue squad in our truck, and a call about a fatal accident came in.

He drove us right to it, gunning the V-8 diesel engine to drown out the sounds of my objections.

At the scene, he, a licensed paramedic, did absolutely nothing but take pictures of the death and carnage with his cell phone camera, and put them up on his personal web-page, and sent them to his fucked up buddies.

Eventually, I got him fired. For something else.

So, we emergency medical technicians don't always take those pictures as teaching tools.

Sometimes, we're just fucked up assholes.

(Also, my wife and I were just talking about the air-raid like siren last night. I have no idea why they still insist on doing that-- since even rural, throwback volunteer squads send out text messages or pages to their vollys when there's carnage. I guess it's (a very annoying) tradition.

Anonymous said...

I'm like Kyla - once I see it, it's in my brain. Sometimes, I think that death (in all it's forms) rob us a little of dignity, and really good reporters seem to recreate it with kindness and tact. Bravo.

Anonymous said...

That's a difficult position to be in. On one hand I don't want a filter between me and what is happening in the world, but then again, there's so much out there I suppose a filter is needed. Now I'm confused about where I stand on the issue.

Sarah said...

Elle Bee, Kyla, Mari, Andrea:
Thanks for your support, ladies. I'm so glad I'm not the only one who feels this way. I was starting to worry.

Mr. Apron: That's horrifyingly creepy! I hope he didn't manage to find another job that allows him access to that kind of thing.
As for the siren thing, you should have seen me the first time I heard it. I thought I'd time-travelled or something. Now, it's really just irritating.

Notonlyneurons: I know what you mean. I really think it has to be taken on a case to case basis though. Like, it was certainly important that people see images of the horrific carnage of the vietnam war, and it's amazing what an impact that had, but these smaller scale tragedies especially in small towns, I'm not so sure seeing those kinds of photos do anyone any good at this point.