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Sue VanDerzee

Sue VanDerzee

Posted: November 24, 2010 04:15 PM

I talked to the managing editor of a local daily newspaper earlier today. We talked about the upcoming trial of a second suspect in a horrific home invasion triple murder. The trial will begin in January. The first suspect was already tried, convicted and sentenced to death earlier this month. Every moment of the trial was reported extensively, usually on page 1 -- including repetitive descriptions of the methods of death of the three female victims and heart-rending photos of the bereaved husband and father.

I asked whether the same level of coverage could be expected for this second trial, and if so, why?

One columnist in another daily paper in this state, Connecticut, wrote after the first sentencing, "This trial has changed us all." I would submit that "coverage of this trial has changed us all," including, tragically, those reporters sent to cover it in mind-numbing and heart-wrenching detail.

Jurors reported not being able to sleep after the trial, and the state is wisely exploring making mental health services available to help them process the effects of their jury service. No such offerings, however, have been made by news organizations sending their reporters into that courtroom nor are they widely available to news consumers who were, and probably will be again, bombarded with a daily dose of "home invasion murder" stories.

Will people read/watch those stories? Yes. Are readers/watchers edified or helped in any way by the graphic coverage? No. Will another unbalanced and cruel person with an urge for publicity be led to think that this might be one way to garner that infamous coveted "15 minutes of fame?" Possibly.

The extensive coverage seems just the newest variant of "If it bleeds, it leads," which has never represented journalism's best foot forward. Based on recent history, however, news consumers seem destined to live through every gruesome moment yet again while the second suspect is tried. All this while our state is floundering in red ink, and citizens are meeting the challenges of joblessness, lack of affordable healthcare, home foreclosure, fossil fuel dependence and gridlock on many levels and in many spheres, all subjects that journalists could bring their formidable talents to bear on in a way that might make some difference in the lives of people and our state.

But that would be really hard, wouldn't it? It's much easier to send a few reporters to court...