3 FEBRUARY 2011BY DANIEL GROSS, EDITOR-IN-CHIEFNO COMMENTS
This week I wrote about the case of Lindsay Freeman, the 24-year-old Towson graduate student who died in the I-695 car crash last Thursday. The article can be seen in the Monday, Jan. 31 issue.
For background on the person, I called the office where she used to work – a Baltimore-based law firm. Nervous that the secretary or manager would object to me for asking for a comment at such a delicate time, I was shocked when the receptionist said she would put me on speakerphone.
Soon I was on the line with Freeman’s direct supervisor. His words did not come out easily and I could already tell how hurt the office was with the loss. Freeman’s fellow co-workers also began to open up. I could hear cries of sorrow on the other end of the phone as each individual gave their own outlook on Freeman and what she meant to their team. I felt as if I had started a makeshift memorial service right in the law firm office.
The idea that reporters feel no emotion is untrue. In fact, it’s quite difficult not to become overly attached to one story. In the perspective of some journalists, taking your emotions with you on a story may not be as taboo as one would think. We’ve all been taught that objectivity is the only way to write a story. Our brains have been drilled with the thought of pushing people until we get answers, breaking as many hearts as it takes to get the scoop. Some journalists find themselves falling into “just another murder” syndrome, where a lost life is simply a notch in the tally sheet. However, the common saying, “I’m only human” speaks volumes to journalists who find themselves in a heap of emotion during a tragic story assignment. Ron Snyder is a former Towerlight editor-in-chief from 1998.
Since graduating from TU, he’s covered his fair share of tragic stories, whether it is a murder or a sudden death. He is currently the Essex local editor for patch.com and found himself in a similar situation as described above. Last month, a Lutherville volunteer firefighter died in the line of duty. Snyder decided to write the story and he was attached when reporting, to say the least. Snyder discovered that the firefighter who died was a man named Mark Falkenhan, a longtime friend of his and his wife’s. He knew Falkenhan quite well. He said he told his boss that he knew the man, but said he would still like to write the story, feeling that he could do the most justice for and service to this fallen volunteer.
“I think whether you know the person or not, you want to put emotion behind it,” he said. “If you don’t have opinion, it shows in your writing.”
While objective reporting is important, Snyder said he doesn’t believe objectivity is an absolute.
“I think you should be objective, but not emotionally void,” he said. “We’re all human. We have emotions, and you need to keep everything in perspective.”
Another hard-hitting tragedy
Another former Towerlight editor, Nick DiMarco, who was senior editor in 2009, is now working for patch.com as the Lutherville-Timonium local editor.
In his time as a journalist, as fresh as it still is, he has covered some significant stories. The 2009 Sheraton Baltimore North Hotel murders was one story that pushed through his emotional wall during coverage. In April of that year, a man named William Parente strangled, beat and murdered his wife and two children inside a hotel room – one of his daughters, Stephanie Parente, was a student at Loyola University. DiMarco followed the story through initial reporting, a murder investigation, and onto the more emotional side of things – the emotional impact on loved ones from the tragedy.
“The overwhelming thing was shock. Everyone that I spoke with … it was just like, ‘That doesn’t happen,’” he said.
Where it became difficult for DiMarco was when he was talking to college students going through overwhelming sadness.
“It’s not easy to write a story about a peer,” he said. “I mean, Stephanie Parente was our age. You can’t not feel a little bit affected by it.”
So can a reporter become emotionally attached to the point where a story is compromised? I’m sure they can. But as Snyder said, there are no absolutes. Objectivity only runs so deep and emotions are bound to come into play.
“You have to keep your emotions in check obviously, but if you become dehumanized to it, it’ll just be another story and it becomes facts on a page,” DiMarco said.