Pixel Tracker

Friday, December 14 , 2018, 1:51 pm | Fair 63º


Tom Bolton: For Journalists, It Should Be About Both Life and Death

Benjamin Franklin once famously exhorted that nothing in the world can be certain "except death and taxes."

But in the world of journalism, we can probably narrow that down still further and say just death.

For good or for bad, people dying generally qualifies as news.

Whether it's the traditional obituary or a story of some spectacular and/or tragic demise, death is a topic that fascinates us as a society, and occupies a lot of time for reporters and editors.

And readers can't seem to get enough of it.

On the surface, it can appear that journalists — like cops, firefighters, hospital workers and others who must deal directly with death on a regular basis — are a rather callused and uncaring lot.

We put on a face that may seem devoid of emotion, and often use terms that sound cold or clinical when describing someone who has passed away.

So, for example, we refer internally to someone who has died as an 11-44, which is drawn from the code list police and firefighters use, primarily for their radio communications.

And we may call an incident in which someone has been killed simply "a fatal."

Spend any time at all as a hard news reporter, and eventually you will encounter these issues. And most likely, you eventually will end up at the scene of a crime or accident in which someone has been killed.

It's at that point — coming face to face with a mangled body or a ubiquitous yellow tarp — that an 11-44 becomes something very real and disturbing, someone's parent or child, sibling or friend, who has just died, often in a violent manner.

I remember vividly, as a young reporter, the first time I saw a body at an accident scene — it was an airplane crash — and how much it affected me.

It's at that point I believe journalists have a huge responsibility they must try to live up to.

I long ago came to the conclusion that that responsibility includes not only telling our readers, in a complete and accurate way, what happened, but also trying to tell the story of who the person was.

That can mean tear-filled and heart-wrenching interactions with the family and friends of the deceased. Those can be tough days.

But it seems sad to allow someone to be defined not by the life they lived, but by how they died.

Even though I've been doing this for a lot of years, and reported on hundreds of deaths, I still get a lump in my throat when I have to call a victim's relative, or knock on their door, asking if they'd like to talk.

What's interesting is that, beyond the shock and grief of the moment, people quite often want to talk about the person they've lost. There's a certain catharsis to it, I suppose.

Hearing those stories — and recounting them to the community — can be an emotional and humbling experience.

Sadly, we don't always have the time or opportunity to go that extra mile to tell the human story of the deceased.

But it's something I believe we always should strive for.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.