So, how did you feel when you first learned your son had third degree burns over 75 percent of his body?

My alma mater, Northeastern University, is featuring me in an upcoming section celebrating 025
the 100th anniversary of their cooperative education curriculum (a five-year plan in which students alternate between classroom study and relevant work experience).

I majored in journalism and was incredibly fortunate to land three stellar co-op jobs:

– as a copy boy/news clerk with The New York Times
– as a reporter/sportscaster/talk show host for WGCH Radio in Greenwich
– and, finally, as a news writer for WEEI News radio in Boston.

As I was being interviewed, I was asked why I'd chosen public relations over journalism. “That's easy,” I responded, “I hated asking the 'So, how did you feel' questions to victims of fires, parents of kidnapped children and other people who suddenly found their worlds turned upside down.

I remember my WEEI news editor once yelling at me to track down the survivors of a horrific fire in Dorchester that had occurred the night before. “Get one of them on the phone and, so help me, do not hang up until you ask them how it made them feel!” He felt I wasn't getting enough emotion in my interviews.

I couldn't deal with the intrusiveness of it all. Nor could I deal with the jaded, world weary personalities of the journalists with whom I worked. I didn't want to wake up one day and be as burnt out as so many of these professional journalists appeared to be.

I bring all this up because I see the “…So, how did it make you feel?” question being asked more often than ever nowadays. In fact, it's become a staple of the morning talk shows. Maggie Rodriguez of ‘The CBS Early Show’ just asked the mom of some poor kid who had been badly burned how she felt. As soon as the interview ended, Maggie smiled at the camera and previewed an upcoming segment on women's health.

I couldn't do that. I couldn't keep up a false front or 'compartmentalize' the horror and personal tragedy.

I think it says something about the image and reputation of journalism that, as the media skew more and more towards the tawdry and sensational, we're seeing more and more digging into the human tragedy that goes along with modern-day life. Sleaze equals ratings, pure and simple.

Journalists may pillory public relations, but most of us focus on telling the positive side of a story. And, for that, I'm grateful (and proud.)

5 thoughts on “So, how did you feel when you first learned your son had third degree burns over 75 percent of his body?

  1. You see this so often with local news in particular. That is why I am very selective about what I watch locally now. Often my knee jerk reaction is to switch off the news and instead flip to a rerun of Friends instead. I switch the channel on only toward the end for the news you can use and lighter stories. Otherwise every night before I go to bed I’d hear about shootings, missing children and tragedy. Its like watching a horror film before bed – evoking fear more than anything else.

  2. it would be great to hear the following live response on the air: “How the F do you think it made me feel?” Maybe you could substitute the word “hell” for the f-bomb, but that wouldn’t enforce this blog’s lesson plan.

  3. See the bubble-headed bleached blond, come on at 5:00, she can tell you bout that plane crash with a gleam in her eye, it’s interesting when people die, give us dirty laundry… (I think this was Dire Straits, but regardless, the song simply strengthens your post, which was correct). I don’t watch TV news anymore, this is one of the reasons. Actually had it happen to me after the VA Tech tragedy (one of my daughter’s friends was murdered and a camera man (2 actually) had that question ready to go). Horrible.