April 20, 2010

Mixed Feelings (Or "Responsible Journalism"?)

"You come to me in the dark days."
Life is full of many sudden twists and turns and how you react to them reveals exactly who you are and what you are made of and I continue to be reminded of the futility and fatality of life and loss. To those you love, tell them often and always, young and old.

The sad beauty in life is its tragic circumstances. You are what you love and sometimes you must lose what you love. Loss is essential to life to make it special, but it really sucks anyway. Hopefully, you can go out doing what you love surrounded by those you love.

Over the weekend, I broke my first real news story on the world wide web as a blogger and sort of journalist, but with extremely mixed feelings. As a journalism student with just a year of training under my belt, I am only partially pleased with myself. Sadly for more obvious reasons, I feel much more terribly about it and wish I never got the opportunity at all.

Where I refrained earlier from relaying my more detailed sad feelings as an individual, reporting aside, I sincerely offer my sincerest condolences and thoughts for anyone blessed enough to be touched by the music of and/or the person that was Devon Clifford, may he rest in peace.

On Friday night, my friends and I were very much looking forward to an evening of live music. I have written in the past about my admiration for the music of Abbotsford rockers, You Say Party! We Say Die! (now called You Say Party) I attended their free show they did a couple months ago and was thoroughly impressed being a fan of their music. When it was announced that they would come here again on their North American tour, I quickly trekked over to Zulu Records to get tickets for all my friends and I. I am pretty we are responsible for the most sales from that concert considering we bought five tickets, four t-shirts, and five beers.

The whole experience that night, in retrospect, is so surreal watching the horrible incident. I remember after it happened, still holding my camera from during the show, thinking all my training as a journalist tells me I need to somehow record and report this event. With mixed feelings, I quickly snapped up about eight or so pictures of emergency crew surrounding the stage on my way out. That night, driving home with my friends and talking about what we saw, I formulated what would be my first-hand account of the event never thinking it would turn tragic.

I stayed up until 2:30 in the morning and published my short, concise report about exactly what I witnessed that night in the most professional and timely matter possible without inserting my own personal voice. I included five photos of the incident, which I debated posting or not, thinking you could only see the stage and firefighters standing around it. I thought of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili who died and the graphic footage of his death that was shown. Never thinking this incident would prove fatal, I decided my pictures, while possibly of questionable taste, constituted fair, responsible journalism, at least in my mind. I thought about it and then I went to bed proud of the reporting I had done, even if no one would read it. I was probably overzealous but I was excited about reporting the story.

I stand by my original reporting of the matter. While my action as a human being can be questioned, as a pseudo-journalist, I believe I reported it fairly and accurately. The pictures taken were not graphic in any way, even if they were exploitive (but that comes with the territory). Had I thought that things would have turned tragic, I might reconsider doing what I did. I acted with information I had at the time. Frankly, I thought I would receive more flack and criticism than I ultimately did. I received relatively understanding and fair feedback, all things considered. I like it when people criticize me nicely.

The morning after when I woke up around 11 o' clock, I saw that the story on my blog had received a few hundred hits and I was the only one anywhere that had reported the story. I felt a sense of satisfaction despite it coming from a sad place. I also found an email that morning from the band's publicist asking me nicely to remove my entire post immediately and thanking me for doing so in advance with no explanation. I was taken aback. This was very presumptuous. I know from all the lectures from my news reporting instructor, I had done my job correctly. I decided I would ignore this request and not take down my article. The public and fans had a right to know what happened, at least that is how I decided to justify it. Despite a user comment saying Devon's situation looked grim, I did not really believe it until grumblings later surfaced online. No one ever really thinks anyone will die until they actually do.

Later in the day, I received another email from someone connected to Devon asking very, very politely if I "did not mind" removing the photos and offered to talk about it further if necessary and explaining their position very clearly and also thanking me for my support. I was so thoroughly impressed by this request, feeling they understood my position completely as a(n almost) journalist. Without responding, I decided to take down the pictures for two reasons: 1) They asked so nicely, offered to discuss the matter while explaining exactly their position and 2) For the first time, I entertained the notion that Devon might not make it. Upon removing the photos, I was unnecessarily but thoughtfully thanked once again for my expediency.

I wanted to respond to this request with some sort of self indulgent comment about myself, thanking them for being so nice, and sending my condolences but decided not to at first and respond later. The next day, when I woke up, none of this would matter as I heard the awful news.

I also received an email from someone else who was at the concert, saw me taking photos of the concert, and found my blog and complemented me on the "professional and speed" of my work to which I appreciated very much considering how difficult I found the subject matter. As a true narcissist, I love getting complimented.

It is hard to swallow that Devon died considering it seemed everyone did what they were suppose to. The band and stage crew noticed the incident immediately, stopped the performance, attended to him, called 9-1-1, laid him on his side, emergency crews came right away, took him off, doctors did their job, he had emergency surgery, but it did not prevent the tragic loss of someone so young and so talented who had yet to achieve his peak of glory.

It really sucks. Frankly, the band was on its way to, if not greater notoriety, then continued success in producing quality work. This was the last leg of the band's North American tour in support of their album XXXX that was recently released in the United States. They were about to embark on a massive European tour after coming home. I was following their tour and their constant updates about how well things were going. It just sucks.

On another note:
"You're a loser and your writing sucks."
"You suck."
— Anonymous

It is curious to note that the most negative feedback I got was not from any of my reporting or the photos I posted and subsequently took down, but my concert review of that night which was mostly very positive except for my displeasure of one of the opening acts. I will refrain from making any assumptions. If you would like to give your name and offer some constructive criticism, I welcome it.

These are my opinions which I try my best to explain and back up. But ultimately, it is only my feeble opinion. Please, tell me the ways I suck. There are plenty of them. I never intend any malice or ill will, only to fairly relay my honest observations which can range from very positive to very negative. However, I find these insults as creatively written as your songwriting skills.

And today, I was contacted by Matt Kieltyka of 24 Hours Vancouver about what I saw during the concert and it is my understanding that it will likely be in tomorrow's free newspaper, so look for that. I, more or less, recounted what I wrote in blog that night. It saddens me that this is only a story now that it has turned fatal.

For a short time, I was the only one in the world that had this story before it became a different one. I know for a fact my article was sourced in major publications despite it not being named. I suppose I had hoped this would be a bump in the road for the band that would bind them together in future glory.

I will take this opportunity to reflect on what happened, how I reacted to it, and how everything unfolded. Ultimately, it was a unique experience for myself, despite the awful circumstances and a taste of the unsavoury part of news reporting.

Once again, I'm Rick Chung in Vancouver, reporting.

4 reactions:

Fraser said...

Smart and open article. I found myself asking of me the same questions that you address here -- I think you handled the situation professionally and with delicacy to the extremely unfortunate turn of events. It's this kind of journalism that needs to be present throughout Vancouver.


Brenna said...

I really liked this article Rick. It must have been hard to act on the spot that night and I think your decision to take the pictures down was respectable. And the person who thinks your writing "sucks" is an idiot. Keep writing!

Anonymous said...

Your face, my fist
-The Tape

Anonymous said...

Rob, the first poster, is the person that shouldn't have said anything. He should have let the family let everyone know what was happening instead of giving out information at such a sensitive and critical time.

It wasn't his to give.

Then the problem that follows is when other "journalists" use the "Rob" quote as an actual "report" and start blasting it out everywhere before the family has a say in the matter.

How do they even know that "Rob" knows what he's talking about or was even there to make such a comment.

People need to be super senitive to other peoples pain.

Thank you for taking the photos down.

Post a Comment