with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Pissed Off at the News Media

July 10, 2005, Tunica, Mississippi

So why am I so frustrated and angry? Oh, the list is long. Tired from the rush to get out of Mobile. Anxious about friends left behind. Worried about friends in Florida being smacked by the storms over and over again. Pissed off at continually breaking computer equipment. And furious with the media.

I mentioned in an earlier post about the media tricking me into believing that all that heavy traffic on the Mobile Bay bridge were people fleeing when they were really representative of rush hour traffic. That still irritates me. So I’m sitting in the sweaty heat near the pool and office, trying and failing to maintain an Internet connection . Brent has wondered off, stomping around in fury about his laptop crashing every time he tries to connect to the Internet. A middle aged skinny man with a news video camera comes up and tells me he is with the local news and he wants to film the many evacuees from Mobile hunkered down at the campground. Can he film me relaxed and working at my computer?

I just stared at him. Anger pouring over and out of me. In the coldest of tones I told him, “No thank you.” He thanked me and wandered off. But I had another good head of rage.

How dare he! First, he didn’t ask if I was from Mobile, running from the hurricane, visiting on vacation, or here with a business conference. I’m staying at the campground resort of the largest casino between Vegas and Altantic City! I could be anyone doing any thing! He had no idea why I was there or what I was doing, and certainly was oblivious to the fact that I was NOT relaxing but angry – in fact, furious.

He just assumed. He told me what he wanted and asked permission to photograph me. Well, guess what, buddy! NO!

Begin by asking what I am doing here. Don’t assume. Sure, I am one of the evacuees from Mobile, but how would you know. There are people here from all over the country, and maybe the world. Because I am the ONLY one near the pool, and the majority of the visitors are inside the casino doing whatever it is that fascinates people inside of a casino, and your assignment editor said, “Go out and find the thousands of people who evacuated and film them,” do I look like the thousands of people who evacuated from the Gulf Coast? No. I’m a lone woman sitting in front of a laptop, about to throw it into the swimming pool, NOT relaxing, who wishes she was in Alaska. Don’t assume, buddy. ASK. And then tell the RIGHT story, not the one that suits the exaggerated needs of the moment. You might find you have a much better story than the one you assumed.

The media’s desire to find THE story, and if you can’t MAKE IT UP or MAKE IT LOOK LIKE THE STORY pisses me off. There are a milion stories out there that are amazing in and of themselves. They don’t need to be made up. Reporters, don’t “look for pre-designed stories”. Let them come to you. The difference between a good reporter and an excellent reporter is one who knows how to ask, when to ask, and when to stop asking and listen. Stories are sought, but the best story is the one that unfolds with good questioning, not assumptions. Assumptions mean you’ve already decided. Good, then stay in your shell and tell people that you are assuming things. But if you are reporting, tell the story you are told not the one you made up. Got it. Good.

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