THE BLOG

Violence, the Media and Dripping Sweat on Dateline

09/03/2010 03:51 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Sweat poured down my face as the Dateline correspondent questioned me.

And before you jump to conclusions -- I was not on To Catch a Predator.

My flop sweat was due to being interviewed about a story I worked on in college about a girl who was almost killed. Her name is Kristen Grindley. The case is ongoing and her ex-boyfriend has been charged. Dramatic.

Couple that with the fact that the town -- Pullman, WA -- is, for fear of being cliché, a quiet little hamlet nestled among the wheat basket of eastern Washington and it kind of ups the ante.

And, as much as Dick Wolfe and whoever does CSI would have you believe, young women don't normally meet mortal violence in Smalltown, USA.

After all, this ain't Aruba.

Plus Kristen survived. That's the kicker.

After waking from a coma she couldn't remember what happened. At least not well enough to give the prosecutor what he needed.

That's a lot of back story. Hence the reason I included links. But me dripping sweat was the way I began so to that I must return.

Sweat poured from me, a) because I was nervous, b) I've been cursed genetically and c) it was during that interview I realized why I hadn't gone into broadcast journalism.

The fact that I, the 25-year-old sweating mess of a student reporter, was the expert on this story spoke volumes to me about the state of the media.

Lil' 'ole me -- a print journalism kid in po'-dunk Washington -- got the scoop before anyone in New York or L.A. or Seattle. But more importantly, as a student and community-member, what happened to Kristen impacted me just as much as everyone else.

People had questions. They wanted answers. So did I. And I was a reporter. So I went about getting them.

I filed public records requests for police reports and found that Grindley's boyfriend had been arrested a few months prior for hitting her in public. The cop saw him.

I posted the records on my blog (which I shamelessly link to here). But during Kristen's coma, when there was not much movement on the case, the documents generated much discussion around town.

Naturally, everyone I spoke with assumed he was guilty. And to this I cannot attest. No one knows. Just because a jury announces a verdict or a judge bangs his gavel doesn't make a ruling gospel truth. I wasn't there on that road that night. The blood's dry.

What I do know is that, as a young journalist, covering this story confirmed my ardent belief in community journalism.

I felt what others felt and it's not bias - it's empathy.

Out-of-town reporters with camera and lights, microphones and makeup can't cover the story -- just the drama. Just the heat that real-life tragedy emits.

And that's why we hate the media. And our hatred might be well founded.

But the media and journalism are not always the same.

In this age of globalism everyone's looking back to the local. Buy local, eat local, be local. And it's because we've expanded everything -- communication, technology, commerce -- to such an extent that we've lost our sense of belonging to a community.

I'm still a kid in many peoples' eyes but I can see the writing on the wall. We are social animals and we communicate through story. We've been that way since we lived in tribes and we're still that way even though we live in condos.

Stories make us relate and feel empathy. And storytellers need to be invested in the community. Not as a part of the story but as someone who can understand what people are feeling.

That's the conclusion I came to while dripping sweat on Dateline.

What do you think?