It was hard not to go anywhere this weekend without hearing about Friday’s fire in the Annex – the speculation around the cause of the fire including the man’s death. I overheard conversations about it at coffee shops, the hockey games and in line at the grocery store.
Tragic news of this sort has a certain effect on smaller communities. The news ripples through the community faster than in bigger centers, as everyone is closer to it. Either they or someone they know is directly affected by it. Therefore, people naturally want to know more about it. And that’s why it dominates conversations.
The desire for news in these types of situations is rabid, leading to people’s speculations spreading as if they are confirmed news sources. While covering the Ghostriders game that Friday night, multiple people came to me looking for validation on the stories they had heard.
Unfortunately, I could neither confirm nor deny anything, as I didn’t want to quote a source that I could not confirm. Most of them heard more specifics than I had at that point.
With the evolution of social media, it has been able to step in as a counterfeit news source. With the advent of smart phones and the technology they provide, everyone has the capability to capture scenes that they were not able to even 15 years ago. However, often times not exclusive to this specific situation, social media often perpetuates more rumours than it validates.
As a journalist, these situations are as tragic as they are conflicting. My job is to get the news, and above all else, that should be my number one concern. However, I’m torn with my desire to respect the family, giving them time to grieve, and to not annoy the emergency crews, whose number one concern is people’s safety, not talking to me.
This type of news can either make or break journalists’ dream careers. Chris Jones, a writer-at-large at Esquire, ended his newspaper career at a prominent New York publication because his first job was to call victims’ families on Sept. 12, 2001. He quit that afternoon.
Hard news is aptly named – it’s hard to report on, hard to photograph the scenes and hard on the people it affects. While my main concern will be reporting the news to the best of my ability, my thoughts are with the family and the surrounding community at this time.