Originally published as column in CFJC Today and Armchair Mayor News on February 20, 2017.
We are in the midst of much turmoil worldwide. Unrest is becoming the word of the day. Controversial topics and happenings pouring in with our daily news can make you feel so small and overwhelmed. The ant in the anthill.
Amidst the flurry of news over the last few weeks, the smiling face of a child kept popping up. Head tilted cutely, sweetness beaming towards whoever took that photo, likely his parents. Next to that photo was a photo of his grandparents, also smiling. Their story was so sad and heartbreaking, it brings tears every time. You may have heard or read about the little boy and his grandparents who got violently killed in Calgary in 2014. After a painful trial, justice has been served a couple of days ago: 75 years without parole.
Many media outlets followed the story, relating on yet another gruesome detail. Every time I saw another headline about the story, I cringed. I thought of the family that was going through this. I cannot imagine pain that runs that deep, though I’ve met pain in my life.
Then, two days ago, I read the little boy’s mom’s impact statement. I’d call it heartbreaking but it would be an understatement. One of the things that saddened me the most was her telling of how hard she fought to have the media leave the photos of her dead son and parents unpublished.
That was her child, those were her parents, that was her childhood home, and some of the media outlets took no notice of how the publishing of photos would affect the people whose lives have been so painfully and permanently altered by an senseless, heinous act. No one other than jurors, detectives, lawyers, and judge need to see those photos anyway.
Some people may find it compelling, and armchair detectives may get their fix perhaps, because they are detached from the story, but for those who lost so much, the photos that are now available online will make for a continuous nightmare.
I cannot find a reason for which a self-respecting journalist or media outlet would push humanity and compassion out of the way to make room for the sensational. Journalists are story tellers. They pick ideas from here and there, they are approached by people who want their story told, and then they go on hunting down stories to bring forth. It’s a tough job.
There are some amazing people out there who make the world a better place by exposing wrongness, by having the courage to stand for worthy causes, and by putting their lives on the line, metaphorically and literally. Some of the ones I follow and greatly admire share one simple quality: compassion. Hats off to them. They all know when a line should not be crossed.
Others and the outlets they represent do the opposite. If pain is an inherent, unfortunate part of the story they relate on, they dig deeper into the wound, leading to what Nathan O’Brian’s mother, Jennifer O’Brien, called ‘less than honourable work.’ While freedom of speech is a must and high ratings are important, there ought to be some conditions in place for not breaking someone’s heart further while having the privilege of earning your money by telling their story.
Because in the end, it is a privilege, in my opinion, to be able to put a story out there for people to see or read. It is a privilege that no journalist should abuse. Then there’s trust. Many times I have had people around me say ‘I’d better not say anything more about this or it’ll end up in one of your articles.’ For the record, I have yet to wade those waters. Truth is, I never will. For the above-mentioned reasons; trust first of all.
Here’s the thing. It’s been almost eleven years since my mom’s unexpected passing. It was a tough river to cross, that kind of pain; I am never too far from those waters, though time has worked its magic in dulling some of the pain. I remember the days after when everything seems to be out of place and hurting: the sky, birds’ songs, and holding my toddler’s hand. My mom could not have that anymore, so I could I enjoy it from then on?
Losing someone dear or going through heartaches of a similar nature chips at our hearts, but adds new dimensions: compassion, understanding and kindness. You know the feeling of wearing that kind of shoes. In a world that keeps on spinning, nothing makes sense anymore and yet life keeps on churning.
The sad story of the little boy and his grandparents is but a small story in the sleuth of daily news, yet it’s one story journalists are expected to tell with much sensitivity and compassion, while still delivering a powerful message. No graphic photo that the mourning family fought hard to keep from the public eye can make a story more powerful. Horrific yes, but that’s betrayal to those who matter the most in the story.
Because of all of that and more, I felt ashamed to read about that mom’s horrific ordeal that some of media made worse. I wish that all aspiring and established journalists will read those passages and I hope, just like she hopes, that one day enough public backlash will spare other families from the pain her family had to go through while fighting the media.
In fact, I hope that all respectable media outlets will add to the backlash so that there will be a consensus on how to go about telling stories. If someone would ask my opinion on how to go about it, I’d say just like I tell the boys all the time: be kind, leave a person’s dignity intact and listen. Never stomp on someone’s heart. Never.