Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Good and bad

The last few weeks at work have been insanely busy. Part of the reason for this is that our town has decided to literally have about five years' worth of violent crime for our town in the space of five weeks. No kidding. It's like there is something in the water. Some of our recent letter writers would helpfully point out right now that it's probably the fluoride.

To recap: In our town of approximately 14,000 we had a woman shoot her husband in the chest while he was sleeping and then shoot herself. She died, he survived and swears she had always seemed perfectly sane he has no idea what might have provoked her. About a week later a local man was found downtown, murdered. Police are still looking for a person of interest who was caught on camera with him earlier that night but other than that there are no leads. A week after that two young men got in a fight in a grocery store parking lot and one died of blunt force trauma to the head. At the end of that week a man was charged with trying to pay a fellow inmate to kill our district attorney after he got out of jail. Yesterday a rape suspect was shot to death after police responded to the scene and he tried to attack them with a knife.

In between all of those violent crimes we were also covering events ranging from a woman falling off a cliff to a local surgeon being killed in a motorcycle crash to an anesthesiologist pleading guilty to molesting women he put under to local controversies like the anti-gay comments made by a local school board member on the radio and the firing of the very popular business manager at the local animal shelter. Every controversial story, including the crime ones, causes us all to also have to use up staff time being yelled at (or in a few cases, to be fair, being talked to reproachfully but politely) by people who didn't like some part of the story. So it's been busy.

Fortunately I'm not the cops reporter and haven't had to cover the crime ones myself (I got more of that in New York than I ever wanted) but it still takes its toll in having to build extra pages, proofread more, etc. and endlessly discuss every word of the stories to see if we're revealing too much or not enough and if we're striking the right balance between sensitivity and helping local law enforcement in their investigation.

Being a reporter makes you hyper-aware of every bad thing happening in your area. It's not just the major stories either--I get the unedited police logs every day and things get harder to forget when a one-liner about an arrest for assault turns into names and details about a woman being beaten by her husband in front of her children.  It's enough to make anyone want to move out of town, but then you read the state wire and national news and realize it's just as bad everywhere else and worse in some places. And then you think about all of the people you know who don't take basic safety precautions like locking their doors at night and you shake your head in wonderment. There is a reason why I immediately signed up for self defense classes upon returning from my New York internship.

We also have the police scanner on all day, which ranges from the funny ("we have a report of a man threatening people with a sword") to the sad (a drowning in progress miles from town that turns into an assumed drowning death before police can get there). It's easy to develop a respect for law enforcement when you listen to them doing their job every day and respond to the same accident scenes they do at about the same time (they beat me there only because they have the advantage of being able to legally speed).

Of course, when you're a reporter you also get exposed to all of the good in town that goes on all of the time, much of which the general public isn't really aware of to the same extent you are. People focus on the one crime story in the paper to the exclusion of all of the positive things we cover--nonprofits, grant and donation announcements, sports, volunteer work, thank yous in the letters to the editor section, interesting people in the community, programs in the schools, church service projects, good things government agencies are doing, etc.

For every sad story I've covered I've talked to multiple people who are working hard to make a real positive difference in their community and succeeding. For every raving ignorant, bitter, angry person I have to deal with I talk to others whose neighbors want everyone to know that they have been quietly serving the community in impressive ways, like donating 35 gallons of blood for free since they moved here or spending hours every week collecting and sorting cans to give the deposits to charity or donating their highly valuable professional skills to a nonprofit regularly when they could be getting paid for it. For every person who goes to jail there is another person who has made a career of helping others. It restores your faith in humanity.

I guess the lesson is that human beings are both good and bad, and you have to be prepared for the bad while not getting too cynical to see or believe in the good.

1 comment:

  1. Okay, this will show my nerdy side, but have you ever watched Warehouse 13 on the Sci Fy (sp?) channel? We love it! Anyway, all the crime, it sounds like somebody has an artifact! That comment only makes sense if you've seen the show.