Making a Story Out of Tragedy: Readership and Journalistic Integrity After a National Disaster
According to the United States Department of Labor and the Bureau of Labor statistics, as of 2010, there were 58,500 reporter, correspondent and broadcast news analyst positions in the United States. Median pay was approximately 36,000 per year but that’s another point.
Of those 58,500 workers in journalism I’d assume that around 10% of those have broken some kind of sensational, impacting, or paradigm altering story at some point in their careers.
Many times these stories have to do with some kind scandal, disaster, tragedy or otherwise unthinkable event that occurs.
This can be a career changing event and/or a nightmare for the journalist who broke the story in that, from then on, they will have stable footing around their business and journalist colleagues having proven their worth and earned their chops, but at the same time, being remembered as the person who broke the world changing story about disaster.
With this dichotomy of success and contrition, complicated emotions most certainly will be involved.
A question arises about all of this that speaks to what kind of human being this journalist sees themselves as, and in practicality, actually is.
As many of you know, I wrote a piece last week titled “I am schizophrenic. Understanding mental illness in the wake of the Newtown, CT tragedy.”
From rough estimates, it was picked up by several reputable news agencies and shared by nearly 1000 people on Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter.
In the midst of it all I was refreshing websites obsessively every few minutes to see who had shared.
I’ll be the first to admit that it was possibly one of the most exciting times I’ve had in recent years, knowing my words were being read and what’s more, shared as a sort of social commentary on the state of mental health in the U.S.
When things started to die down, I found myself constantly messaging and tweeting the link to news agencies, mental health organizations, and shamefully, celebrities who had a large following hoping they would pick the story up and that my brief encounter with fame would continue.
I hoped that in some way, the “likes” “reblogs”, “retweets” and “shares” would compound into an amalgam of recognition and lead, hopefully, to a respected and stable writing career.
What’s worse is that in response to the article, I posted a link on my blog to my little known, self-published novel about my experiences with mental illness.
In the worst way I found myself trying to capitalize on a story about tragedy.
Granted, I did have second thoughts, and those second thoughts harbored a small sickness in me that I probably should have listened to.
It was all so exciting though, and I’ll be the first to admit that I never wanted to give that feeling of being recognized up.
It was a drug, and it was a veritable “rock-bottom” knowing that I was trying to make a career on the back of 26 people dying at the hands of a gunman.
I’m sorry, and I do feel remorse.
The question this raises though, is one that should be poured over, one that should be intensely analyzed and scrutinized by every news man or woman on earth.
At what point should we stop trying to find a story among tragedy?
At what point should we step back and mourn in silent reverie instead of interviewing the aunt of a friend of a friend of the shooter?
At what point does the coverage get ridiculous?
Lastly, at what point does the allure for readership outweigh the seriousness of the tragedy?
I know that even now, I’m hoping that this article will get picked up by NBC News and establish my credibility as a serious writer. As I touched on in an earlier article, we all need to feel like we’ve been accepted, but there comes a point.
I think at that tipping point, at the point of critical mass, we need to learn how to take a breath and just reflect; perhaps try to learn from whatever mistakes we, or society at large has made to get us to where we are.
Granted, the awareness of current events on the societal scale can help us to learn from our mistakes, but it also has some darker by-products that can draw any number of scary conclusions in the minds of the public.
To all the journalists out there, what matters more to you, readership or the importance of the situation?
It could be your priorities need to be re-evaluated.
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