The Necessity of Insensitivity

An angry letter about our newspaper was sent to me by mistake, but since I have it, I will write an opinion about it.

Background: six college kids were out on a bender, including the driver. The bottom line is that youthful carelessness and alcohol combined to kill a 22 year old college student. The story was written matter-of-factly, and there was no editorializing or sensationalism. But by its very nature, news stories have to be insensitive to some degree, since that’s one of the elements of balanced journalism. Sensitivity is usually a form of editorialization, and that is unbalanced journalism.

The angry letter includes this: “Lets start with how completely INSENSITIVE you were. The least amount of class I have EVER seen in a paper, and that is stating something. The quote unquote mug shot of [the suspect] should have never been put in there. This tragic accident was already enough for the people involve and their families. I can truthfully say that by seeing my BROTHERS ‘mug shot’ in the paper, when he had just gone through what he had was even more heartbreaking.”

This angry young lady didn’t write this letter because our newspaper was insensitive, although of course it was. She wrote this letter not because the article was incorrect, which it was not. She wrote this letter because her brother’s negligence killed someone. How do I know this? Our newspaper, and all newspapers, and all television and radio news outlets, and all internet news outlets, write and publish stories just like this one every day, and she never, not once, wrote of letter of this kind until now.

Every day. Murders. Rapes. Horrible car crashes. Crime. Death. But not a word from her until now. And if her brother hadn’t been involved in this incident, would she have written this letter? No. Her brother, not my newspaper, owes us and everyone else involved a gigantic apology.

By the way, incensed letter writer: the way to avoid having your picture on the front page of the newspaper is to avoid drinking and driving. Sadly, your brother probably didn’t learn this simple lesson.

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2 Comments

  1. And even more sadly, some people never learn the lesson, and their photos keep showing up over and over.

    Like you, I sat in a newsroom for several years, and everything you said rings true to me. When it’s *not* someone they know, they’re gobbling up the stories, photos, etc. But when it *is* someone they know, all of a sudden the newspaper is in the wrong.

    Hmmm…

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  2. Okay, I read the story. The girl was writing to you in the throws of grief. The impersonal news story was very personal to the grieving sister and she vented to the Ada Evening News.

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