By John Hubbuch
News coverage in the Information Age is a lot different from the days when Chet Huntley and David Brinkley closed their 15-minute newscast by wishing each other a good night. The orgy of news coverage of the trial of the man who is charged with murdering Jennifer Hudson's sister and niece is illustrative. A private story of unspeakable loss and grief becomes part of our daily amusement. Why, we can even listen to the anguished 911 call. Over and over and over.
A violent man hurting a woman is not all that unusual in this or any other time. In fact, sadly, it happens every day in the Chicago area. No one knows. Hardly anyone cares. But Jennifer Hudson is a minor celebrity, and that somehow makes her sister's death big news.
I don't entirely blame the media. In a capitalistic world, they have to make money. If it bleeds, it leads. The line between news and entertainment is not blurred. It is obliterated. At least that's what I think when I see Dianne Sawyer introduce a piece on the evening news about a blind dog being led by a seeing eye dog. If only pigs could fly.
I blame the consuming public, but our local newspapers must also share responsibility for these invasions of privacy. I can recall a headline story about the drug bust of the child of a high school coach. Another about the arrest of a resident who was charged with abusing children. And another about a missing guy who worked on a referendum campaign. Private citizens with private nightmares.
I really don't see how these stories should be in a newspaper. I appreciate that arrests are part of the public record, but to cherry-pick the arrests most likely to pique the public's interest is crass, mean and wrong.
It's bad enough that these invasions of privacy occur. Even worse is to permit spiteful hateful commentary from the voyeuristic public. The worst of us is on display. We are degraded. I am mystified why anyone would follow and comment on these stories. You feel better because others have suffered a calamity? Work at the food pantry. Following these stories is your guilty pleasure? Just eat another bag of potato chips. You won't have anything to talk about with your friends? Get some new friends.
So here's what we need to do. Confine these crime/arrest/victim stories to the Crime Blotter section of the paper. If somehow it is necessary for the business model to have a story about a private citizen's tragedy, then have a policy prohibiting comment by other private citizens. This is not a free speech issue. The Founding Fathers would be appalled that their good names are invoked on such an issue. Besides, there's always Facebook and Twitter — the preferred instruments of stupid speech. And there's always the diary. Write your thoughts down — and lock them up.
I appreciate that no one forces me to either read these stories or the comments in response to them. But the Wednesday Journal, Oak Park and all of us who live here are diminished by making the private public.
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