Monday, December 03, 2007

A Lesson in Journalism ... from an Athlete

It's been one of those days where it's easy to forget that you're a journalist, and just as easy to be irritated with your industry. No, scratch that, this whole week has been that way.

Today was the funeral of Sean Taylor, aired live on several local stations. I watched as his family, his teammates, his longtime girlfriend fought to get through the three-and-a-half hour service without breaking down. Some were successful. But most weren't.

Tears stung my eyes, while some spilled onto the cheeks of a coworker. It was hard. It was heartbreaking. A supervisor said she wasn't watching specifically because she didn't want to end up sobbing at her desk. And I wanted to turn away myself at times.

But what was keeping me glued in? The fact that for once, in this terrible, terrible week, Sean Taylor was being remembered for what he truly was, by people who truly knew him. Not being analyzed by desk-dwelling anchors. Not being examined by columnists who didn't know him personally. And not being dragged into the tired news narrative that implies everytime a young black man dies, it must have been because of the nature of his "thug" lifestyle.

Luckily, for Sean, his family and his memory, I wasn't the only one choked with frustration. With a bit of a swarm of media people at the service, those who had the opportunity took the chance to bite back at everyone who "reported" on Sean's "thug lifestyle" throughout the week.

Otis Wallace, the mayor of Florida City summed up the sentiment -- saying the media should be ashamed for jumping to conclusions merely on speculation. And he added that he hopes "the media gets a small lesson in grace and humility" from it all.

At my desk, I nodded in agreement and said a quiet "thank you." And an arena-full of mourners stood to applaud, loudly.

But I couldn't help but wonder -- how many times will that quote show up in tomorrow's papers? Will journalists be willing to examine themselves, just as critically as they examined Sean?

I did a Google search. The Washington Post's Jason La Canfora is the only one so far to do so, in his Redskins Insider blog.

I hope it won't stay that way.

When Sean was first wounded, journalists found it necessary report legal woes from years ago, stemming from an incident where he allegedly brandished a gun while trying to keep men from stealing his property. Some, in Sean's death, found it necessary to recount the times he got in trouble on the field. Their implication -- that Sean fell to a lifestyle that, as his loved ones say, he actually wasn't involved in.

So will those same journalists feel the need to report on the open criticism of their work (used loosely) at Sean's service? Will they note that Wallace's words, and the same sentiment from other speakers, drew the some loudest, most earnest applause?

I hope so. We're supposed to report the full story, right?

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Posted by Veronica Marché at 6:54 PM | link

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Duck: this a very well written post. Great job.

Posted by Blogger Moderator @ 7:14 PM, December 03, 2007 #

The whole Sean Taylor thing is so disturbing to me. Especially after finding out that the suspects are so young.

Another writer over at Highbrid Nation did a nice peice on how some in the media want to blame hip hop for Taylor's death. Which is crazy if you ask me.

It'd be nice if we can stop the finger pointing and come up with some real solutions to help our lost youth.

Posted by Anonymous evorgleb @ 7:54 PM, December 03, 2007 #

I too had a hard week in the newsroom regarding the converage of his death. We did some things well, but some of the play -- especially the pull quotes we used -- seemed very dehumanizing to me, like he was being reduced to a very narrow sterotype of a black athlete rather than a human being who had just died.

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous @ 8:02 PM, December 03, 2007 #

What's even more sad is that many of he journalists will never be given the opportunity to file an apology. Most editors don't care enough on this issue.

Posted by Blogger Aaron Morrison @ 9:32 AM, December 04, 2007 #

Unfortunately, as it pertains to people of color, this will be such the situation. Not just because he is a thug, but because he was a black man who did not appear to be the "safe negro," who had a shady/shaky past.

As journalists, we are supposed to write the truth and inform, but we tend to miss that opportunity because we do what we are not supposed to do ... we write from a biased place, rather than neutrally. And I say we, because even when I am trying to write something positive, I am being biased.

Posted by Blogger *Madosi @ 11:22 AM, December 04, 2007 #

great post veronica. i doubt the criticism will pop up anywhere though. sad, but true.

Posted by Blogger JASON @ 2:53 PM, December 04, 2007 #

I tackled this in my column this week. But I'd like to point out that it's real easy to say that because he's black, he got a raw deal in coverage. I'm not so sure I put the blame there, but rather in the sense of immediacy of news coverage in a tragic event. I said it in my column and I'll say it here, it's what I call drive by journalism, where every single scrap of info is thrown out without regard to fairness or accuracy. In this case, the info was accurate but it sure as hell wasn't fair.

Posted by Blogger Zuri @ 7:30 PM, December 05, 2007 #
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