It is hands-down one of the most difficult things journalists have to do. I don’t know a single one who enjoys it. It’s more like we take a deep breath and pick up the phone, or send the email.
I’m talking about, when tragedy strikes, contacting the family and friends of victims.
I think many people don’t understand why we do this.
I’d like to assure people that we don’t do it to be intrusive, or cruel. We do it to try to provide context to a wound to our community, a sudden death, be it in a fire, or a car crash, or a homicide. Talking to those who were close to the victim allows us to describe to the community why this loss is important, by defining that loss — this was a person, not a statistic, someone important, with people who will miss them.
Sometimes we are fortunate and people want to talk about their loved one, to share with the community what a wonderful person they were and what a hole they will leave now that they are gone.
It can really touch others, as is the case with the story in our Wednesday edition where Brent Rayner shared with us, and by extension the larger community, about his father Darreld, who went missing 10 years ago. It’s a very personal story, but one that is nevertheless in many ways universal — we can all imagine ourselves in his shoes, if someone we love was to go missing in a similar way. It’s not just a missing poster, or a short press release from officials, this is is someone’s life. Hearing from Brent makes us all stop and think.
Other times people do not want to talk to us, and we always accept it if someone declines to comment. Most of the time they are polite (and we cannot thank you enough for your graciousness in such a difficult time), or if we have contacted them in writing, they simply choose not to write back. Other times they are angry, and this, too, we accept.
Sometimes families will appoint someone — a family member or family friend — to speak for family, and we’re happy to abide by their wishes and use the contact person, leaving those who don’t want to talk alone. I think this is what I would do should something ever happen to someone in my own family that garners media attention.
Mostly, I would just like people to know that we don’t take this task in our reportorial duties lightly. Our door is always open if you want to talk to us, but if you don’t, we will take “no” for an answer and leave you alone.