BROOKE GLADSTONE: Later this winter, Allentown, Pennsylvania's daily newspaper The Morning Call will have another installment in its series called After the Media. In the series, reporters return to the victims of tragedy, scandal and other media feeding frenzies so that they can describe the experience of being surrounded, trapped in the camera's lens. This is a unique endeavor, as far as we know. Journalist Margie Peterson is the person who came up with the idea.
MARGIE PETERSON: The Morning Call had written in a editor's note when we began the series that the late pop culture artist, Andy Warhol, said in the future everyone would be famous for 15 minutes, but he never said how they would feel about it, and in the last couple of decades there's been such a proliferation of media and cable news stations, talk radio, the internet, magazines -- all looking for stories or commenting on existing ones. Our series was meant to explore what it was like to be in the center of a media storm --you know, a feeding frenzy -- especially for people who aren't accustomed to dealing with the press. So we wanted to look at what's it like, for example, to have to deal with the death of a child which has to be the hardest thing in human experience and to have a bunch of reporters asking you questions at the same time. That was the intent of the series.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:And basically what the series does is allows the -- well, the people who are in the center of those media storms -- to finally have their say - to talk back to the media.
MARGIE PETERSON: Yes, to talk about how the media affected them. Obviously, whatever happened to them -whether they were a victim of crime or--scandal or something along those lines is going to affect them, but they also had so much press to deal with, and that had a great effect on them, and what they saw were the excesses of the press and reporters in general. I don't, I don't know any reporter that doesn't feel a little bit guilty about it.
MIKE FRASSENELLI: I think you would have to be a cold-blooded Vulcan to not have any feelings about that. It's, it's one of the things that the journalists hate most -- going and talking to a family when they - when they've lost a loved one. In fact I think we should probably-- put a moratorium on it. I mean anything that you get that day-- is usually not very helpful anyway. And I think it might be better for the readers and for the family and for our image if we-- let them have their space.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Mike Frassenelli writes for The Morning Call, and in particular has written several installments of After the Media. As you proceed, as you follow the stories of people who have been victims of the media in the midst of their own tragedy, does After the Media serve a purpose for you -- a feeling that justice is finally being done?
MIKE FRASSENELLI: Well it was definitely an eye-opener. The part about the Greiters, they're a family who lost their daughter in a murder at one of our local universities -- the, the father said that the reporters were assembled outside his door, and-- he didn't know what to say to them.
MARGIE PETERSON: Mrs. Greiter, the mother of Jennifer Greiter, who was killed, said that she was at the funeral and reporters were everywhere and cameras were everywhere and-- there wasn't a moment's peace. When she went into the funeral, when she went out, people were looking at her, waiting for her to cry, and she was very conscious that -- one of the things she said was that one of our reporters had taken a photo of her daughter, Jennifer Greiter, and promised to guard it with his life and then never returned it. And that kind of thing I think -- when a reporter reads these stories in the series --I'm hoping they make mental notes to say I will never do that; you know, I will understand what this photo means to this family and I'll make sure it gets back to them.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well how has it changed the way you do your job?
MIKE FRASSENELLI:Well, we have kind of an unusual occupation. We step in and out of all these different lives. And when we finish our story, a lot of times we just wipe, wipe our hands clean of it and, and go on to the next story, and a lot of times we don't think about what we left behind, and I, I think that's definitely caused me to, to think a little bit more about what we left behind.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Margie Peterson came up with the idea of the After the Media series for The Morning Call in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Mike Frassenelli writes regularly for the series. One reason, probably the main reason that there is such blanket coverage of personal tragedy and mayhem is that we human beings cannot help but care about it. We watch in horror as reporters are dispatched in battalions in pursuit of the bereaved, and yet we somehow want them to be there!
BOB STEELE: I remember very well when the Lockerbie tragedy happened and the video of the one mother which showed her on the floor of, of the airport in New York, crying uncontrollably upon learning that her daughter was on that flight. The video I saw is heart-wrenching. At the same time, as intrusive as it is, to me, that particular piece of video was the wailing of a nation.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Bob Steele is a specialist in the ethics at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. He coined the term for what some reporters now call "The Bummer Beat."
BOB STEELE: Many journalists tell me that they will go out to the home of somebody whose family has been part of a tragedy and they'll drive by the house, 5, 6, 7, 8 times and not stop and instead drive down to the corner and put a quarter in the pay phone and call back to the office and tell their editor or news director nobody was there -- I guess we don't have a story.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But in the end, Steele believes that however unpleasant, telling these stories is important.
BOB STEELE:Journalism plays an important role in painting a picture to allow the public to experience both the joys and the sadness of what life is about. It is one of the most difficult jobs in a newsroom to cover tragedy, and it is a responsibility that challenges journalists to be their very best when they have to do it.