Empathy & Reporting

Well, I will start off by saying that this blog contains some details about a tragic event.  If you are easily disturbed, please do not read it.

In class, we have touched on the topic of reporting a death on the news numerous times.  We always talk about how you need to react according to the story you are reporting.  We have also been told that different stations have different protocol for reporting deaths or homicides or showing footage of a body on the air.  Typically, you won’t see this kind of material on the news.  It could be upsetting not only to the viewers of the newscast, but also to people who were affected by the death of the individual(s).  So, when the Saturday before Easter rolled around, I was reminded of this in an unbelievable way.

Easter this year was slightly different for my family.  The University’s Honors Day was scheduled in Tuscaloosa on Good Friday, and so my parents drove up to Tuscaloosa for the event on The Mound.  Saturday morning, they left to go home, and we decided that it would make more sense financially to spend Easter apart: my parents and little sister at home and my older sister, her fiance, and me in Tuscaloosa.  Well, Saturday afternoon rolled around, and Courtney (my older sister) and George (her fiance) were packing up her room in our apartment to begin the move out process.  Their wedding was the weekend after Easter.  I began to get pretty sad…Courtney was moving out, and I was going to be the third wheel for Easter.  I quickly decided to drive an hour and a half away to Lake Martin to spend Easter with my boyfriend and his entire family.

I left Tuscaloosa around 12:00 pm.  Driving down Highway 82, I was about 15 miles south of Tuscaloosa when I approached a truck pulled over on the side of the road.  About four or five men were walking around in the ditch, and they all looked upset.  I glanced into the ditch and saw a silver car…its windows were shattered, and the two doors on the driver’s side were badly caved in.  I slowed to a roll, put on my emergency flashers, grabbed my cell phone, then put my car in park.  Jumping out, I quickly asked one of the men if they had called 911 yet.  A man nodded and looked down.  I couldn’t believe that I was the second person on the scene and really had no idea what to do.  About that time, my sister called me to check in on my location.  I answered, “Courtney…I’m going to have to call you back.  Wreck scene.”  And hung up.  She called again; I ignored it.  I looked down into the ditch and saw a man leaning in the driver’s side window talking to someone inside.  I breathed a sigh of relief that the driver was okay.  I then decided to take a picture of the accident to send to Courtney where she would stop calling me.  I snapped a quick shot from the road.

It was then that I saw a hand dangling from the driver’s side window.  It was limp, and it gave me a knot in my stomach.  I glanced down the long, vacant highway…no sign of an ambulance.  I slowly walked through the thick roadside grass and wildflowers, down to the level of the wrecked car.  Inside, I saw something that I will never forget…

A lot of times, you wonder why God puts you in certain places at specific times.  Why did that woman have to die that day…the day before Easter?  Why did her daughter have to witness it from the passenger seat?  Why did I have to be so curious as to step a little bit farther into the ditch?  I wonder why I was driving down Highway 82 on that particular day.  But I will say, I did learn one thing from it: it is so important to report a death with sensitivity and empathy on the air.  Although it may just be a body to the reporter, that body was once a person full of life and energy…a person who meant something to somebody.  I later Googled the single car accident and found out everything about the woman in the silver car.  Her name…her age…where she was from…and what she accomplished during her brief lifetime.  I will never forget that tragic day.  And when the day comes that I have to report a death, I will remember to feel for the family that lost their loved one. cb

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