All I remember is sitting bolt upright in bed, looking around frantically, trying to get my bearings by the light leaking in from the street.
A moment passed, confusion dropping away into a stomach knot of concern.
Oh my God, I thought, his name is Dylan, right? That’s what his mother said in conversation, but I should have double-checked before it went to print.
I knew, of course, if that name was wrong the other 700 words – the hours of work writing on my day off – wouldn’t be worth the paper they were printed on. They wouldn’t mean a damn thing.
Thus my mindset when it comes to stories written about accidents, or to remember someone in the wake of tragedy.
And I have to agree with local reporter Erin James, who said during an exchange on Facebook this week that’s the mindset of the overwhelming majority of people who do this job.
We want to get it right. And when we fall short it hurts.
But when people act like we don’t care about the words in the paper – words we fight for then sign our names to each day – well, in its own way that hurts even more.
Erin, who used to work at The Evening Sun (at this desk right next to me, actually) got into a back-and-forth on Facebook this week with members of the local support group Hanover’s Angels, a wonderful grass roots effort that started online last summer as a way to remember Hanover-area residents who’ve passed away.
I wrote the first story about that group, and coverage has since grown.
But recently, co-founder Eryka Wentz posted this online:
Part of the reason that Marcie and I started this group was to remember our angels for the ways that they lived their lives. Too often we would read news articles that focused too much on how our angels died and took away for how they lived. Some of the news articles about our friends were downright disrespectful and broke our hearts…. Hanover’s Angels is fighting back and we ask that you do the same! When we read an article about one of our angels that we do not feel is appropriate, we are sending the newspaper and/or news station a letter expressing the views of Hanover’s Angels and asking them to adopt a different philosophy for reporting.
Eryka has since better explained what she meant (and there are certainly no hard feeling on my part) but nonetheless discussion ensued, and as it often does the theme of “the heartless, evil media” took up residence. That generalization is something Erin took exception to, and said as much.
And I have to agree with her.
In fact, the whole exchange reminded me of a story from a little over a year ago. I had to write about the death of a Hanover councilman, a death the coroner eventually ruled an overdose. I wrote that, but I also spent the day on it, talking to his friends and family, working to fill out the story with fond remembrances.
And I got hateful messages on my machine for days. I was called a lot of names that week.
That’s fine – it comes with the job, I’ve learned – and I maintain the man was a public official, and honesty demands such things be reported.
No one bothered to ask, of course, but that councilman was also my friend. He’d welcomed me to the beat when I started in Hanover, and was the kind of guy who’d text you on a Sunday to pass on news, or to complement a feature story.
He had a big heart, and a big old dimpled smile forever tucked there under his old cap.
I always search for redemption in such stories. Be it in the community group that councilman started – it continues to this day – or in the good work any of us do here in out too-brief time. It’s only natural.
Otherwise, you’d go a little nuts in this job, I think, with negativity pouring in some days from all sides.
You’d probably start waking up in the middle of the night, thinking of names from the newspaper, and if they’re spelled right.
Dylan, by the way, is Erin James’ nephew, her sister’s boy. And I woke up that night in a cold sweat thinking about the spelling of his name because a few hours earlier I’d filed a story about the boy’s father.
Leon Sax, 27, died in a construction accident at his job in Maryland. Dylan was about 7 months old at the time.
And I promise you this: when I wrote that story about his death and a family’s struggle I wasn’t thinking about sensational headlines, or awards, or how many papers we might sell the next day. Neither was Erin, when she told me about what happened. And hopefully neither was anyone else who’s ever lost someone they loved, as they read that sad story.
Because the story wasn’t really about a Hanover-area man; it was about Leon Ray Sax. And it wasn’t written by the media; it was written on that day by Tim Stonesifer.
Just people, flawed and floundering and finding their way as best they can, each and every day, in print and outside of it.