Thursday, January 3, 2013

smile through the tears for the camera.

I did a post in March 2012 about how the hardest part of my job was having to report on the death of a student (read here).  But I learned there are MUCH harder parts that go along with that in August 2012. I am finally ready to post about it. It has seriously taken me since then to figure out how to write about a tragic accident that happened in our district and how to do it without jeopardizing my job or my relationship with our press.

We had a student die in an accident. Not a random death that happened over the weekend to a student in high school (which is also horrible, don't get me wrong). This accident happened to a BABY, a little first grade girl was hit while waiting for her school bus a week after school started this year. She was hit in front of her home... in front of her two siblings... and in clear sight of a bus full of children.

For unknown reasons, this little girl, who I will call Sally, had crossed over the highway and was running back to her bus stop in front of her home when a truck hit her. A truck whose driver was focused on Sally's siblings who were waiting on the right side of the road for their bus. The truck driver had seen a school bus coming and was watching the other two children so closely (as he should have been) to make sure they didn't jump out for the bus, that he didn't notice Sally running in front of his car.

The school bus coming wasn't Sally and her brother and sister's bus, just one on its way to the school from another route. Maybe Sally thought the bus was hers, we will never know. The driver of the truck climbed out of his vehicle, saw Sally's body, which had been thrown around 30 feet, and just fell to pieces.

Now. This was hard enough as it was. A precious little girl being killed right around the road from the school in front of her family and a bus full of children. But it gets worse, because then the reporters swooped in like vultures.

I used to be one of those reporters, hungry for a story and wanting to be first on the scene. But while I was a reporter, I was also still human. And yes, they could have been pushed by their producers to get the story, but where was their humanity and compassion!?

These people came in with cameras ready to report in front of school, to interview the distraught principal and trying to get interviews from Sally's parents who had to literally hide out in another home to avoid being caught on camera.

One seriously asked me if there was some blood on the road still so they could get a good shot by the bus stop.

And there I was. Having to recount this incident over and over and over again for reporters or having to put the superintendent in front of their cameras. Needing to put on my PR mask and smile through the tears that I wanted to cry so badly. All I could think about were the nightmares Sally's brother and sister were going to have, how these teachers were going to have to explain to their students about Sally's death, how we need to draft a letter and a press release to send out, and what if it had been my child.

So, I prayed and prayed, and sent texts to friends asking for prayer. I just kept thinking God just help me get through this, help me smile and be that reassuring face for our students, teachers and staff, help me say the right thing that doesn't place blame on that poor truck drive, or our transportation director, or Sally or her parents. 

And I did. I kept it together long enough to talk to reporters and guide them to our superintendent and when they went live on the school campus for the 7 p.m. news.

Then I fell apart at home. Hugged my child until he said "mommy, stop" and cried until I couldn't.

This is the hardest part of my job. Not the little things I complain about like getting home late or 6 hour meetings and training's, it's having to smile through the tears for the camera.  And treat the death of a child like a PR situation I need to control.

This is not a post about me wanting sympathy for the difficult parts of my job, this a post about how we as a society HUNGER for horrible news. How reporters feel like they need to jump out in front a story about an absolutely horrible accident. And how we pay them to do it.


  1. Wow, this post left me in tears! So wonderfully written. I feel the same way about reporters in a lot of situations - specifically after Sandy Hook. Children has just witnessed their teachers and friends being shot and all the reporters wanted to do was interview them. So sad! People need time to heal and trusting a camera in their face doesn't help at all. Media has gotten way out of control. (My Media Law class is coming back to mind, there used to be laws about this!)