Barhite: Family members tend to want to talk after tragediesWritten by Brandi Barhite | Community Ombudsman | firstname.lastname@example.org
One day after the Sandy Hook shootings, Robb Parker spoke to the media about the loss of his daughter, Emilie.
He was one of the first family members to emerge and speak to reporters after the school shootings Dec. 14.
It wasn’t long before I started to hear comments from people not in Parker’s position.
“How could that father even have the strength to speak to reporters, let alone stand up after such a tragic event?”
“I would punch a reporter in the face if a microphone was shoved in my face,” said another person.
I am here to tell you that most of you would stand, you would talk and you probably wouldn’t punch the reporter in the face.
Here’s why. I have been reporting for more than a decade. In my experience, family members and survivors usually want to talk.
If they don’t talk now, they might not get another chance to memorialize their loved one in public.
If they don’t talk now, they might be too deep into the grieving process to talk later.
If they don’t talk now, who will talk for their loved one?
In 2002, I was assigned to cover a story about a drowning. A teenage boy had drowned, along with three other people, including his brother-in-law. I went to his house to talk to his father. The grief-stricken father opened the door and politely declined to comment.
I walked away. Most journalists respect someone’s decision to not comment – but we have to at least ask.
I went back to the office and found other people to speak about this boy’s life and interests.
The next day, the father showed up at my office. He wanted to comment. He had seen the big story in that day’s paper and wanted to share more about his son.
Unfortunately, the story was already published, and my editors didn’t want another story like it. The news cycle had moved on.
The dad never got his chance to be in that story, which I am sure was clipped and saved as part of that family’s history.
From that day on, I never again felt badly about asking grieving family members to comment for a story. If they hung up on me, fine. If they yelled at me, fine. If they asked me to leave, fine.
I could live with all of that. I couldn’t live with a father excluded from his son’s story, especially if he wanted to be in it.
So don’t demonize the media for asking for a comment. Although it is a sad chapter, most people want to help write this part of their family’s history.
Email questions or comments to Toledo Free Press Community Ombudsman Brandi Barhite at bbarhite@toledofree press.com.