Friday, December 7, 2012

Death, ethics and the dark side of being a journalist


The video I shot and produced of the candlelight vigil at Shenendehowa's football field, for the four popular students, was the most difficult assignment I've ever had. I had to force myself to intrude onto people's intimate moments after the vigil and ask to interview them in front of a camera.

Fortunately, Saratogian sports writer Stan Hudy graciously introduced me to some of the people he has grown close with over the 15 years he's been covering sports in the region.

But it was still hard. There are always going to be assignments like this, all you can do is hope they will be rare but press coverage is mandatory.

Before I left my house the night of the vigil, I had triple-checked my video equipment (which I almost never do,) and convinced myself I was ready and confident to "do my job." Of course, the second I stepped out of my car and joined the 6,000 people on the football field, that confidence slipped away.

It was humbling, to be privy to that kind of event, to talk to people and record their voices and tears and to be trusted with putting the pieces of their story together.

As a journalist, the most intriguing and important stories often come from, in my opinion, asking the most difficult questions.

What I had to remind myself on the night of the vigil, is that even though something is tough, it doesn't mean people don't want to talk about it.  People do want to share their stories, their memories, emotions and opinions. It's better to at least ask and get turned down than to walk away from a story without even attempting to talk the people involved in it.


There is no disputing the fact that Dennis Drue killed two people and injured two more. Legal consequences aside, it will stain his life forever.

However I think it's important to remember that he hasn't been charged with anything yet and I think it's safe to assume after yesterday's announcement, that he was not drunk when he got into the accident.  

Today's Times Union article painted a picture of a monster, who has gone on for years as an abhorrent person. The backbone of the article were quotes from Drue's ex-landlord, who clearly had an axe to grind.

That's not to say there weren't some valid, relevant facts in the piece.

It's easier to see Drue as a monster rather than a person who got into an accident, because it distances us from him. It's easier to cope with the grief and release the anger when you have a monster to pin it on. But it's not our jobs as journalists to provide people with the monsters and gods they crave.

The dark side of being a journalist

Death and ethics are tricky areas in this line of work. When to step back and when to ask questions is something every journalist must grapple with and ultimately base those decisions on good instincts and critical thought. Stories like this one require even more than that. It requires compassion, for all the victims, even the ones we want so much to blame.

Rather than focusing on blame, I would hope we all take a deeper look at this. Two people lost their lives, let it not be in vain. Drive safer. Know that life is unpredictable and value it. Know that there are inexperienced drivers on the road, elderly people who can't see well at night or in the rain, and as shown in our police blotter every single day, people driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Forgiveness and resolving to be a better person are so much more constructive than anger alone.


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