A few days ago I wrote a story updating the condition of a 13-year-old boy who collided with a bus downtown. When I came back to work yesterday, I found that the story had not yet run. Another reporter added more information about the police side of the accident and I was tasked with getting in touch with the boy’s doctors. No such luck late on a Wednesday afternoon; the story ran anyhow.
Truth be told, I was a touch uncomfortable with writing the story from the start because it didn’t seem like news. Yes, the bus accident happened at the beginning of June, and yes, we covered it then. We ran a photo the day after it happened and a story on the day after that. It seemed it was all done. The teenager wasn’t hurt too badly and it passed into memory…
…until we got an e-mail from someone who said the boy wasn’t doing as well as originally thought. He had developed several problems that took time to surface, like lung trauma and serious swelling in his knee. Now he faces surgery and expensive physical therapy that the family can’t afford–they recently moved to the area and don’t yet have insurance or much money to speak of.
This is where my qualms about the article really began. Was this news, or was it a plea for help? I understand that under certain circumstances, journalists have a social responsibility to help the less fortunate, but that always seemed to me a function that required some ill-treatment from someone with more power. To put it more clearly, journalists expose social unfairness when someone is the victim of someone else with more power or money and less scruples. It is a victory for the everyman.
Yet in this case, we’re talking about an accident, an act of fate. There was no injustice here, only a sad story about a young boy who won’t be able to play football this fall. Yes, it’s hard, but is it news? On a larger scale, is it right for us to publish the phone numbers of any group that readers can call “for more information”? That seems like promotion, not reporting…
That said, I benefited from such journalistic treatment when I was younger. If it wouldn’t have been for the generous attention of reporters in the Billings area when I was a young kid sick with cancer, my family’s much needed fundraisers would not have turned out as well as they did, and it would have been far harder for us.
Good on one hand, iffy on the other. No solid answers. I guess we’ve reached the real world.