The Family (Or most of them)

The Family (Or most of them)
The Family

February 12, 2007

PEOPLE JUST WANT TO BE HEARD

NEWSPAPERS ARE DYING.
We know they are. And this is hard for me to say, because that's how I make my living.
I delivered the newspaper I now work for as a kid; today, 35-40 or so years later, I work for that same newspaper as a sports editor/writer. So I've come full circle, in a way.
This newspaper was a staple in my household growing up and now, of course, it's a staple of what I do in a much different manner. Either way, this newspaper is part of my fabric.
But in its current form, this and other newspapers are getting old and decrepit in some ways. Not because they've outlived their usefulness, but because the Internet and TV are killing them.
In its current form, the standard newspaper daily is becoming a dinosaur. It isn't immediate, it can't compete with CNN or ESPN on fast news breaks, although I'd argue it's much more reliable and indepth.
But that's another post.
What I want to say here is that newspapers DO still matter. They bind together and are the voice of their local communities. Citizens care about what they read or don't read in their local newspaper every day.
Believe me, I hear about it daily in the form of complaints: how we didn't cover this, how we didn't mention little Johnny scoring four goals in a minor pee wee hockey game, how could we not be here or there...
People care. Right or wrong, there's a feeling that if you're in our paper, you've been properly honoured in our city of 750,000. If you're not, then you feel insulted or wonder why we weren't there.
If you're not asleep yet, read the story below. And understand why the title of this blog is that People Just Want To Be Heard.
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We ran a feature a couple of weeks back on a local boxer/trainer who was built up by others in the boxing community as a role model for younger kids.
It was a nice feature story, a touchy-feely typical tale of a guy who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and who made it in a tough sport with a bad reputation and who has emerged as a hero.
Today, I got a call from a 29-year-old woman who claimed she was the mother of this guy's five-year-old son that he never comes to visit...and what about her story and her son's story?
She says he's making custody payments. They were never married. Apparently she was sleeping with two men, one right after the other as she transitioned out of one relationship and into the next.
And she got pregnant. She also has another son from another man she did not marry.
She said she had seen the story about this boxer guy and wanted us to write another story that took away some of this guy's sheen and spelled out what was really happening.
That he had abandoned his five-year-old son, who she says wakes up in the middle of the night wondering where this guy is and why he has no dad.
If you're me, this is the kind of call you don't want to get, but that you have to deal with, sensitively and properly. What would you have done? I've been through similar situations before.
I tried to be considerate to the woman, who was emotional and often on the verge of tears but also lucid and sensible and open to the truth. I talked to her for half an hour, at least.
This man, based on what she told me, had done nothing illegal. Unfortunately, this happens far too often.
She had gotten pregnant by him. S**t happens. He is paying financially to support the child, but that's all he wants to do. You can talk amongst yourselves about what's right and wrong here.
The fact is, she's left with a five-year-old son who has no father who's present. The father is paying child support. She's left -- and the child is left -- with what they're left with.
She doesn't like that we painted this guy as Mr. Squeaky Clean. But we didn't. We told the story of him and boxing. We didn't know about (I assume) and didn't report the story of him and this child.
I gave her the name of our social affairs columnist. I suggested she consider writing a letter to the editor to put her side of it on the record. But we could not write a story now saying what an asshole this guy was.
Not without delving a lot more into her own history and making the story balanced and fair. And I suggested while it was up to her, that could end up harming her more than helping her and her son.
In the end, after a lot of sobs and just spilling her guts about how she felt this was so unfair, she said she probably wouldn't take it any further. She understood. She would deal with it on her own, she said.
I said to her that was her decision that she had to make alone, not with my help. But I did suggest to her, off the record and not as part of my position at the paper, that maybe she needed to face the facts.
This guy doesn't want to be a part of her life or the five-year-old's. That's crushing and sad, but true, based on what she told me. It just about killed me saying that to her.
She agreed and thanked me and said she might call again.
Goodbye.

23 comments:

  1. My mom was the owner and editor of the local newspaper when I was young. The entire operation was run from our house and as with everything; she gave it everything she had. In the ten years she owned it she took it from a small 4 page town newsletter to a 20-26 page county-wide newspaper. I grew up to the sound of her typewriter and the smell of the correction fluid. Back in the day, everything was done on stencil and run off on the press in the basement. She was an amazing writer and one hell of a typist. My brother and I earned spending money by folding the newspapers. As with everything, it turned into a competition, and we had a blast doing it.

    I realize that more and more people are accessing online versions of newspapers and magazines. People are becoming accustomed to having information available to them with the click of a mouse or remote control. But I cannot imagine a world without traditional newspapers. There is something so familiar and wonderful about opening the newspaper first thing in the morning over a cup of coffee. You don’t get that by opening up a webpage. It’s just not the same and I chose to believe that this is one tradition that will be with us for a very long time!

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  2. I feel sorry for the child, but the mother sounds like a bit of a tart who needs a crash course in contraceptive methods. (I can not do without the local newspaper - the source of...everything - the photos of the new babies, the obituaries of beloved community members and so on).

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  3. Sadly, these things DO happen. I agree with Lee that this lady, at least in part, brought it upon herself. That's not to say I have no sympathy. But I do not think it is very fair for her to lay the blame with the father of the child.

    With regard to newspapers... they don't seem to be dying in Melbourne! The GOOD paper is going downhill a little... but the free tabloid handed out at train stations is going strong - most people read it on their way home. Personally I'd rather bash my head against a wall, that's a more efficient way to kill brain cells.

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  4. That's too bad about the woman's situation. But there is nothing much that can be done except make the best out of it. A lot of other people are in similar situations and they (and their children) learn to cope.

    As for newspapers, I agree that television and the internet (plus the mobile phone) are changing the way people behave. I don't know, books are also available in audio and ebook format but I still prefer the feel of a good solid book in my hands and the smell of the pages as I turn them.

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  5. Wow...Newspapers will survive in one form or another but they will certainly never recapture their glory days...seeing is believing and now we demand instant access to information...it will take a while for the other shoe to drop so you can relax...

    about the boxer's wife...nobody can stand up to the scrutiny of others and be declared a saint..nobody. We all make mistakes, some we lug around with us inside and some on the outside but what this lady needs to do is examine and execute a plan that will make that childs life as fulfilling as possible.
    Many people grow up without Fathers or Mothers and become fantastic Dads and Moms themselves, the human spirit is amazing and resilient.
    There is always three sides to every story and the third rarely gets much exposure.

    Too much sadness I am just posting happy kid pictures now and let sleeping dogs lay.

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  6. it takes two to tango, but it's the last one to walk away who gets left with the commitment.
    tough story.

    as far as papers go (keep in mind this commentary is limited mostly to the op-ed section), i'll give you my two cents.
    our paper is probably 75% or more advertising. it's like buying a coupon book without the coupons. and if i wanted an editorial section that made me feel like one of hitler's willing executioners, i'd pick up the national post. our paper's editorials have gone from bad to worse, and the only reason i look at the saturday paper is to see what ridiculous position is being taken this week to determine whether it is noxious enough to have to take a stand against. i am getting the impression that some of the articles and editorials are included is to incite argument; and while reasoned argument is a good thing, some of these op-eds are so out of touch it is impossible to know where to begin.
    i ask myself, and the paper's staff in charge of who gets to write these things, why i can't write something from an opposing view. apparently i don't have the credentials.
    the reason i don't buy our paper is because it does nothing to make me a better, or more informed person. the opinion espoused is a step back for everyone in the community and does nothing to advance the awareness or knowledge of anyone.

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  7. I agree about the newspaper.

    So sad. When you think about it, every news outlet is being taking over, in a sense, by the internet.

    I know I am guilty. I no longer buy the local paper. Why spend a buck on the ever so thin and frail paper when I can just type in the newspaper's website and catch up on all the local news via internet?

    As for the mother...I understand her pain, but when do you MOVE ON? So he is not spending time with the child...these are things you should check out beforehand. He pays his support which, is all he is legally obligated to do. If the little boy is asking questions about his dad, you must stop and also wonder what the mother is saying.

    I have a child by a dead beat father...he does nothing...but my daughter is being raised in love and I never mention him to her. She has not once asked me about him...as she knows that no matter who her 'father' may be, her mother will forever be by her side to show her the right way to go and be there to support her.

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  8. Journalism in Aus is dying, there are no decent reads anymore just opinionated babble posing as news stories.

    Dont get me wrong...
    Editorials/opinion pages do provide a fantastic forum for the free expression of ideas... thats the bit i usually g for.. but the bulk f the paper should be news, not sensationised, or opinionated.

    There are some decent local papers left, which do bring a great sense of comunity and keep everyone informed of the happenings in the shire.

    With the young lady it is ahard spot to be in, because you are between her and the paper, transfer to the society pages probably the best option, dont feel responcible it was not your fault:)

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  9. Yeah. The woman's a tart, and the man gets off without a word about personal responsibility?
    Shame on the people who slam this woman.
    Have some compassion.

    WW - it sounds like you handled the situation as best you could. Good job.

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  10. Well, if the newspaper dies, you can reschool and become a therapist ;-)

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  11. Laurie:

    Thanks, that's an amazing and neat story. I'd like to believe what you say is true.

    People can Google anything nowadays, they can get world news instantaneously from the best organizations in the world, but the CNNs and the L.A. Times and the like aren't going to be able to tell you about old Auntie Mae in Montana or Manitoba.

    They can't be local and tell us about where we live.

    But all I see is my kids on the Web...

    Lee:

    People get themselves into all sorts of binds for many different reasons. All I was reacting to was the here and now...and her and that five-year-old.

    I'm with you on the baby photos and the obits, but that's not journalism.

    The only hope I hold out for local news organizations is that people feel a desire and a need to know about themselves and the place they live in from a local perspective.

    I like reading a newspaper in the morning too. But we kill lots of trees to do that. If we have to go strictly electronic, which is where this headed, so be it.

    I just hope someone in India or Canada or England is writing all the stories about Australia 10 years from now.

    Stace:

    If blame must be laid, I think it needs to be laid at the feet of both of them. But doing that, really, is counterproductive.

    Don't bash too hard...

    Menchie:

    Yes, people learn to cope. But as with everything, there's a bunch of sadness to be endured on the way to that destination...

    HE:

    I agree about newspapers.

    I also agree, generally, that nobody's a saint and this woman has to buckle down and do what's right for the child. I think she will.

    Agree entirely on how people are so resilient and adaptable.

    Rey:

    Tough story, for sure.

    It's true newspapers are chock full of ads. That's what makes it a profitable business. They've gone too far.

    Still, and obviously you're entitled to your own opinion, I can't see how you can make such a blanket statement that reading the paper doesn't make you a better or more informed person.

    Not one item?

    The op-ed pages aren't supposed to inform you of news, they're supposed to offer differing or expanded views on news that has already been reported elsewhere in the paper. Readers are able to agree or disagree.

    I guess, Rey, I'm saying that newspapers provide more news and views than TV, radio and the internet combined. It's the most complete package out there...I think.

    Awaiting:

    You're killing my livelihood!!!

    Just kidding.

    It can take a while for people to move on, I think...and they can move on and then something new comes along to trigger those old feelings of pain, and the pain resurfaces.

    I also wondered what the mom is saying to the boy...but it's more complicated and not worth getting into.

    I think your own strategy and behaviour with your daughter is the perfect way to be.

    Aidan:

    That's pretty harsh, but yeah, I agree, a lot of news stories are sensationalized or overplayed.

    I didn't feel responsible for this woman's troubles, just was trying to be sensitive and to help.

    Shelley:

    Is the tide out when you're Shelley and in when you're Tidalgrrrl?

    I guess everyone's got an opinion.

    Mine is more with the need to have compassion for this woman, but she isn't a victim, either.

    I sensed in the end that she knows this. She didn't necessarily want to see this guy roast in hell, but she did feel it was unfair.

    And I agreed with her.

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  12. Hildegarde:

    What...a massage therapist?

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  13. I think your suggestion of a letter to the editor was a good one. I hope she lets go of the frustration and anger, it isn't fair to her son.

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  14. Laurie:

    I don't think she's going to do anything at all.

    I advised her that it was entirely up to her, but if she tries to go public, she's going to make enemies and potentially bring a lot of scrutiny back on herself...and maybe make it worse.

    She told me in the end that she just needed to talk it out and hear from someone who was objective...like the post title says, "People Just Want to be Heard."

    :-)

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  15. You would make a good therapist (massage or otherwise) ;-)

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  16. Laurie:

    Well thanks for that blind vote of confidence! I do enjoy doing that, actually...(massage, I mean)

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  17. I prefer to read the paper over watching the news or reading the news on the internet. When I was a student and was taking public transportation, I would pick up the paper almost everyday in one of those little stands in the subway station. I used to have the paper delivered here everyday, but noticed I didn't have time to read it and it was just a waste. So now I just pick up the paper whenever I feel like it. I'm ashamed to say that isn't very often - usually just weekends.

    That woman - sounds like the green monster at work. I think she needs a little therapy. Yeah, the guy is an ass for not wanting anything to do with his child, but that's his choice. We don't always like others' choices, but we do have to live with them. She needs to get over it and move on. The story was a sports-related story - it had nothing to do with her. Her negativity will ultimately only damage her and her son.

    Sounds like you handled it with much sensitivity. I doubt many others in your situation would have handled it so well. Good for you.

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  18. when articles and opinion pieces cross the line from reporting or offering opinions to writing fiction, then the paper has no use anymore. it has lost its credibility.
    a newspaper can tell me about a house fire, or an exciting hockey game, but as soon as it writes about politics, or an event involving cyclists and police, or about socialism, or a wal-mart in kenora, i know that there is an inherent bias involved, and i cannot trust its dissemination of the facts of the matter because i have seen the facts manipulated to suit a writer's own thesis in the past, on more occasions than is acceptable.
    making it necessary to understand the paper's bias does not make me a better person, it makes my cynical and jaded. i don't read our paper to be informed, i read our paper in search of the lies of the day, and in that search, i start with the editorial section. opinion is one thing; deception and lies are something else entirely, and they have no place in a newspaper.

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  19. Anna:

    Yeah, I think your own experience is probably similar to a lot of peoples'...

    Not enough time to read it or it's not compelling enough to make that time.

    Thanks on the woman thing. I tended during our discussion to agree with her and sympathize with her plight, but in the end she agreed it wasn't worth the anguish and to move on.

    She just needed to vent.

    Rey:

    I guess it's up to every individual to decide what their version of fiction vs. the truth really is, if they can determine that so easily.

    You clearly already know what your own truth is, and that's cool.

    I don't agree with your pessimism, and that's cool too.

    So I guess I should tell circulation not to try to sign you up for a subscription?

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  20. WWIII -the only thing worth reading in my local paper ARE the birth announcements and the obits -a break and enter still makes the front page here :). Sorry to the person I offended by referring to that lady as a tart -I'm a bit like Judge Judy(haha)in that I don't like women to sell themselves short and, in the process, create grief for themselves. If she was in some kind of committed thing with the man I can understand her being upset over him not spending time with the child, but if it was just a fling....

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  21. i love our local paper! it comes out once a week and its stuffed with all sorts of stuff that doesn't make national headlines!
    as for how you handled your caller... i am impressed! journalistic integrity and a kind heart!

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  22. Lee:

    Hi Judge Judy. Yeah, I dunno, it's not an easy thing. Everyone's entitled to their own opinions, I guess.

    Angel:

    Keep on buyin' local!

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  23. grumbuler2:49 PM

    Great post, ww. As a people, we
    are being groomed for a "stateless"
    existence, wherein our shared history is (at best) relagated to
    a series of mutable, electronic vignettes. This disturbing trend has been forefended a bit by newsprint. Sadly, this has been a fight, marred by convenience,pure lassitude, and general apathy about news media. Nasty mix!

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