Social media changes the way sad stories are covered - Gusto

Share this article

print logo

Social media changes the way sad stories are covered - Gusto

Since I’m on record as saying I love NBC’s family drama “Parenthood,” you probably could guess that I cry pretty easily.

My youngest son, Max, was surprised that I didn’t cry at the end of the 3-D screening of “Godzilla.” (I did cry a little; I wanted my money back.)

I cried so much while reading Jerry Sullivan’s column on the life and tragic death of University of Richmond and Nardin High School graduate Natalie Lewis in a hot air balloon that I immediately texted him about how beautifully he had described the impact she had made in her short life.

I also was touched when watching the Facebook video post last week that showed Jill Kelly in part of her wedding dress running toward her ailing husband, Buffalo Bills legend Jim Kelly, to celebrate their 18th anniversary.

Like many Western New Yorkers, I felt for the family of 5-year-old Ben Sauer after he succumbed to a battle with cancer. I can’t think of anything sadder than burying your child.

I cried in my car when I heard the ESPN story by Jeremy Schaap carried on WWKB radio about Dominic Moore’s decision to leave the San Jose Sharks during the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs to be with his wife in the final days of her battle with cancer. I instantly began rooting for Moore, who played 18 games for the Buffalo Sabres several years ago and now is starring in the playoffs for the New York Rangers.

I thought Scott Brown’s report last week on the cancer battle of former Channel 2 weatherman Barry Lillis was very moving.

Now that I’ve explained what a softie I am, it might surprise you that I knew about Lillis’ cancer battle days before Brown’s report and chose not to write about it until his former station ran the story.

I’m not sure it was the right journalism decision. A blog about Lillis certainly would have gotten more daily hits than normal. He is – or at least was – a celebrity and celebrities by definition create news whether they are battling cancer, visiting sick children or fighting a relative in an elevator.

I just was getting a little overwhelmed by all the stories about illnesses, was tired of crying and feared that I was in danger of getting numb to all the tragedies being played out on television screens.

That’s what often happens when I watch the Olympics and all the stories about everything that the athletes and their families have overcome.

All the local tragedies also made me think about the role that social media plays these days on the coverage of these stories and what it means to the profession.

When Jim Kelly was first told that his cancer had returned, I tweeted that I hoped the media would allow him and his family to have privacy. I was terribly wrong about what the family wanted; the family didn’t want any privacy and has used social media to keep the community informed about practically everything that is happening. Kelly is a big celebrity so everything his family posted has become news and the attention seems to have helped Kelly mentally in his battle for his life.

Much of it has been very touching. Kelly did get some early criticism for a statement that “a normal person wouldn’t have been able to take” the pain. After all, many people have been in the same circumstances. But he apparently learned from the criticism. In a story by the Buffalo News’ Mark Gaughan earlier this month, Kelly smartly noted he doesn’t feel sorry for himself after seeing what other people – including young kids with cancer – are going through.

Perhaps he was thinking of Ben Sauer, who became a symbol for people with loved ones battling potentially fatal illnesses.

I’m sure some parents with very sick children also wondered why Ben was receiving so much attention when their kids weren’t getting any. There might have been some understandable jealousy.

Ben received the attention because his mother’s blog made so many people aware of what he, his twin brother and the entire family were going through. She made him a celebrity, which led to the moving “Blue4Ben” campaign and all the media attention.

It was understandably newsworthy and illustrated how caring this community can be. But it makes a journalist wonder how the media is going to respond when more parents go to social networks and try and make their loved ones celebrities. Will the media be able to give everyone the attention? How will it decide which people get the attention?

It could become a difficult problem.

The media also have had to deal with another touchy subject in these tragic stories: Religion.

Newspapers, TV networks and local TV stations have had to decide how far those going through these illnesses can be allowed to talk about their religious beliefs when some members of its audience may be skeptical or even turned off.

We all may understand why people want and seek prayers. It provides comfort. People who aren’t very religious even may go down on their knees when they or a loved one are in danger in the belief it may help. It certainly can’t hurt.

However, many people believe that God – if they believe there is one – has more important things to worry about than one individual.

Even the phrase “passed away” can be a touchy subject. Journalistically, people die. The phrase “passed away” has religious connotations. Print journalists are taught not to use it.

It is easy to forget about journalism training when covering or watching these sad stories play out. After all, journalists are human beings who cry just like everyone else.

We don’t want reporters to be numb to what is going on around them. But we don’t want them to proselytize, either.

For journalists, that is much easier to accept in “Parenthood” or some other fictional television show than it is on the local news.


Story topics: / / / / /

There are no comments - be the first to comment