We all know how cruel the press can be. In this age of social media, more information is available than ever before. The turnover of stories is high, and for a busy journalist, there is more temptation than ever before to cut corners.
Corners can be cut in all sorts of places. The research can be paid for with back-handers, rather than waiting for an official announcement. The facts can even be guessed at, if pressed for both time and money. Vague statements can be made, then posted to the internet with the tag: “Details to follow.”
You can cut corners by not checking your facts, by not checking your spelling, by not checking if it ever happened at all.
Stories are needed to fuel the media machine. Preferably, ones that can be summed up in 140 characters or fewer. Quality must be sacrificed in order to provide quantity.
Advertising revenue has its stranglehold on the media, too. If you’re not selling papers, you need to make money another way. So, making mistakes, or missing information the first time a story is published is actually beneficial. The reader must return to see the corrections.
All the time, Twitter dangles the key pieces of information just out of reach.
Your friendly local paper isn’t so friendly any more. It’s a monster, crushing all who stand in its path.
This week, that was me.
This week, a tragedy hit my family. I’m not ready to tell the internet what that was, because frankly it’s personal. However, not so personal that my local paper didn’t think it was absolutely delicious, and jump on the “story”.
My life, and my family’s lives are not stories. Our misfortune is not in the public interest. Still, it didn’t stop me finding out this particular piece of tragedy, not from the police, not from my family, but from Twitter.
A family tragedy. My family’s tragedy. 140 characters or fewer.
I was devastated. A quick glance confirmed that my mother, too, had been informed in the same way.
I can’t put words to that, yet. All kinds of metaphors spring to mind, from being sideswiped by a lorry to falling into a bottomless pit. There was no way I could have seen it coming.
After the shock subsided, what was left was fear. That there are people in this world so callous as to do that to me. This isn’t just someone else’s injustice any more. It’s mine.
So I wrote an email. I wrote to them to tell them exactly what they have done wrong, exactly how cruel they have been. I do not know what good it will be.
I am a mouse standing up to a lion, and I am terrified.
Anyone so cruel as to do that to my family once will have no qualms about doing worse to me. How dare I call them on their behaviour? I’m not a qualified journalist! I’m a tiny, pathetic mouse, and nobody will listen to me.
Please, friends, subscribers, strangers, whoever you may be: I didn’t wake up on Friday morning and think “Today I’ll have an unpleasant confrontation with the press.” It just happened. It could happen to any of us, without warning.
If we don’t stand up to this sort of lazy, callous news-gathering, we put ourselves at risk. If we argue in favour of free speech at the complete abandonment of the freedom to live in peace, we run the risk of finding ourselves a victim of the press.
Our lives are not stories.
Details to follow.