Recapping this summer’s lessons
Zach Klonsinski | Friday, August 21, 2015
As a general rule, I always want to be listening, to be learning. It’s why I’m a history major; it’s why I probably always hang around too long at interviews; it’s why I always prefer to be quiet and around the background of different situations.
Yet this is also a trait that seems to be contradictory to the role of a reporter. Everyone has a stereotypical reporter cast in mind: the annoying, pushy, cold and unfeeling person always shoving people out of the way to get the inside scoop or the breaking story, no matter the cost. This is far from the truth, of course — in my year and a half as a member of this demographic, I have met a lot of great people who I have a ton of respect for.
Sometimes, though, the media earns every bit of that bad reputation.
This summer provided a couple of great examples of places we need to keep improving upon. One event occurred on social media, the other at a live awards show broadcast for the entire country to see. In both cases, we were reminded just how many people our work reaches — and just how careful we need to be with it.
As baseball’s trade deadline approached, rumors flew about a trade involving Mets infielder Wilmer Flores being sent to the Brewers. In just minutes, everyone knew Flores was almost certainly going to Milwaukee — except Wilmer Flores himself. The aftermath of fans yelling to him he’d been traded was well documented: The tears, the fans giving him a standing ovation for grounding out in what seemed to be his final at bat. Then, the next night — still in a Mets uniform — hitting a walk-off home run, and later working with ownership to stay a Met for life. Someone will have the movie rights soon enough, I’m sure.
Still, despite the Hollywood-esque ending and the reality the reporters who broke the trade rumors were literally doing their jobs, in all of it we were reminded of the dehumanization our work can easily slip into. We cover real people, and very quickly our work has real consequences. We cannot forget the influence our work can have on a person’s life, and nothing should be written, filmed or tweeted lightly.
With that in mind, we also must be wary about how that influence is used — and who or what decides how to use it. Sensationalism is hardly journalism, to me. In the era of page clicks, I worry sometimes incredible and important stories may be lost to the pursuit of numbers above all else.
The Arthur Ashe Courage Award at this year’s ESPY awards was one such example. I’m not saying Caitlyn Jenner didn’t do something incredibly courageous. I’m not saying transgender rights and respect are not important. It’s a national conversation we need to continue. And I’m not saying a televised awards show should not try for high ratings.
I am saying, however, Lauren Hill, a basketball player at Mount St. Joseph’s diagnosed with brain cancer, knew she was going to die. She had an expiration date on her life, yet she became an inspiration for millions. I only hope to have a tenth of the courage and zeal Hill and those around her showed in her fight if I ever find myself in that situation. And I’ll say Hill directly used sports as her basis of getting her message to the world; she wasn’t an Olympian from almost 20 years before I was born.
I also hope ESPN didn’t make the decision on the award this year solely or even largely on who would provide the best ratings. I really want to hope this. I get it: ratings bring cash and the like.
Is that all that makes our jobs worth doing, though? It’s a discussion we need to have.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.