Good reporting helps communities cope with grief
As a teenager, I remember telling my parents that I could never be journalist. I couldn’t imagine sticking a microphone in someone’s face during his or her moment of pain, I said. The only image I had of journalists at that moment was of the throngs of cameras and shouting questions that followed people out of courtrooms and hospitals.
Those people were so callous, it seemed.
But years later, life had somehow steered me into the reporter’s chair and I found myself often face to face with people in tears, hours away from the death of a loved one.
I wasn’t part of a throng of reporters. Usually it was just me sitting on someone’s couch with a notebook. Trying not to cry as I listened and wrote.
Those stories are still burned in my memory ” every sentence that I wrote.
I remember sitting in the empty bedroom of a high school senior who died in her sleep, looking at her tennis trophies and listening to her mother tell me what a popular girl she had been.
I remember visiting the widow of a pilot whose plane went down in the mountains that morning and the day I sat through the funeral of soldier who died in Iraq, searching for words to describe the image of his 3-year-old son staring into the casket.
I always return from those interviews rung out like a dishrag. The clock is ticking with that night’s deadline as I search for the right thing to say.
As you tell the story of the departed and the loved ones left behind, you bear a huge responsibility. Your job is to help the community sort through the grief of its loss.
On Wednesday morning, my phone rang and East Grand School Superintendent Robb Rankin was on the other end.
“How are you?” I said.
“Today, I am not doing well,” he said. “Not well at all.”
That’s when I learned about the death of Amy Gallagher, a 26-year-old English teacher from Middle Park High School.
I wrote her name on a piece of paper and walked out into the newsroom. Reporter Tonya Bina was the only one at her desk. I handed her the name and told her we had a story to do.
Rankin was protective of his students and staff and didn’t want a reporter quoting or approaching teenagers in their moment of grief. We respected those boundaries.
He gathered quotes from those who were able to talk. He found a photograph and came to the newspaper office to help us put the pieces together.
Many of us never met Amy. She was new to the community, but she had already touched many lives as a teacher and a coach.
As I drove to Kremmling that afternoon, only hours after she slid off the road nine miles from that town, the roads were dry, the sun was out and I couldn’t get her off my mind.
Through interviews, we found out that Amy was only 26. She was funny. She was a good teacher. And her passing was causing a lot of pain.
Our front-page story told of the accident that ended her life and gave a small glimpse of who she was as a person.
If anyone would like to send us stories about who Amy was as a teacher or a friend, I would be happy to publish them.
I can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com, by phone at (970) 887-3334 ext. 19600 or stop by the office at 424 E. Agate Ave. in Granby.
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