I awoke this morning to find the Internet all abuzz with outrage over NBC’s interview with Olympic champion racer Bode Miller. The insensitivity and lack of compassion the interviewer showed while poking him repeatedly about his brother, who passed away last year, prompted comments about how heartless the media is.
First: Hated the interviewer’s questions. Rude, unnecessary, and inappropriate. Insensitive.
But second: Feel the need to speak about using this lame grilling as representative of proof “the media” lacks compassion. Here’s why: Just like I tell my kids about any kind of stereotypes — you can’t paint everyone with the same brush. You can’t say every media professional lacks compassion, based on one horrible interview. Or even two horrible interviews.
It’s no secret I’m a writer. I’ve always been unsure whether I’m considered part of “The Media,” because to me that conjures up images of strictly newspaper-and-television, but I have done thousands of interviews over the course of my 15+ year career. One in particular stands out in the discussion of compassion.
I’d only been freelancing maybe four years or so when I was assigned a story by an alumni magazine. It was a round-up about donors who had contributed new grants, scholarships, and donations to the university.
One man had created a fund in his late wife’s name. That was the information given to me from my editor.
I called him; we started talking. Very quickly, I realized a piece of information I hadn’t been given: His wife had only passed away within the month.
So I’m on the phone, tasked with getting information about an elderly man’s wife, whom he had very recently lost. Within minutes, he started getting choked up, and very soon, he was crying about his lost love.
I gave him my sincere condolences and tried to end the call to give him space. But he wanted to talk about her.
I put away my questions and notes and for the better part of an hour, we talked about her. We talked about their life together, vacations they took, their children, their first home. He told me about how he met her, and about how her eyes sparkled when she was excited about something.
After we got off the phone, I felt an enormous need to make the story more than just a clinical report about why this man created a fund in his wife’s honor. It took me a long time to write, re-write, and tweak until it was perfect. I felt like I had to capture her in those meager 200 words. I felt like I needed to, for him.
Anyhoo. That was around Christmas, and that year, my husband had gotten laid off (thank you, dot bomb era), we had two kids under the age of two, and four of my in-laws were coming to our house for the holidays. I didn’t know how I was going to feed everyone on our amazingly tight budget.
Then the doorbell rang.
On the doorstep, a huge Honey-Baked Ham, along with a long, hand-written note from this man, thanking me for taking the time to talk with him about his dear Lily, and saying our conversation had given him a step forward in his grieving.
Dudes and dudettes, we peeps in the media? We’re not all ogres. We do have compassion. We do tell our bosses, “No, I’m not going to write/ask that.” We do care about people, especially those we connect with. There are, unfortunately, some of us who do care more about the story, or the sound bite. But don’t paint us all with the same brush, okay? We all want to share peoples’ stories. Unfortunately, some of us forget that those people…are people and there are lines you just…don’t…cross.
Maybe this will get my writer card revoked, but my theory is: People first, story second. Period.