Media made it harder for mourners

Nanaimo still has the luxury of being on the periphery of a world where major tragedies and violence are a daily occurrence.

It was the morning after the multiple shooting at Western Forest Products.

A woman approached a memorial of red shirts and flower bouquets growing on the fence where some of the shirts bore handwritten messages from sons and daughters at the threshold of fathoming their loss.

The woman paused with her flowers, unsure what to do when she saw me and a colleague crouched with our cameras, then she stepped forward and hurriedly placed the bouquet.

As she went to leave she was swarmed by reporters and cameras, and she froze as the questions emanated from behind the cameras and note pads. “Did you know them?” “Are you related?” “What made you come down this morning?”

I backed away, wondering what the hell I was doing there. What any of the media, including two remote location trucks, crews, reporters, lighting units, video cameras and tripods, photographers with big $5,000 lenses, were doing there anymore. I was sent to get a photo of someone visiting the memorial and I arrived to find the parking lot filled with media people, cars and equipment – the gauntlet anyone approaching the mill had to run, even if it was just to place some flowers. It was as if the families, friends, coworkers or anyone trying to come to terms with the tragedy were victimized by the event and again by the media.

I’m no better. I agreed to stay, take the photos and ask questions, even after expressing my disgust at the menagerie that greeted me when I drove onto the site.

What more could be told from here? Why would any news agency waste its resources positioning so much equipment and personnel where nothing was happening or likely would happen? The victims’ families had come and gone, I was told. What more was there to be leached from this scene that could further the story?

I waited from a distance for the scrum to break up and apologized. I didn’t know what else to say. It really rattled her. She was shaking.

A bank of cameras suddenly looming in one’s face can be an intimidating experience when it’s part of a routine of the job, but a crime of this magnitude in Nanaimo is anything but routine and maybe I was naive to think media would depart from its routine for a major story – just this once.

The woman gave me her name and we talked for a few minutes.

She didn’t know the victims or their families. Placing the flowers was simply her way of showing support and compassion for them. What she didn’t say was perhaps it was her way of helping comprehend what happened. A moment to stand in contemplation, to find a few precious seconds of stillness, like stealing away for a few moments in a chapel to light a votive candle.

She never got that moment. Maybe if we weren’t there she would have. Maybe the victims’ families would have. Maybe Nanaimo would have.

I found her experience disturbing, probably because Nanaimo still has the luxury of being on the periphery of a world where major tragedies and violence are a daily occurrence – and the blessing of not having become desensitized to them because of their rarity here.

But I can’t help think that in the crush to feed the media machine with every nuance of information, for something to say after the commercial break or to scrabble up and hold a position at the peak of the Google search engine pyramid, that we’ve lost human empathy for the people we’re reporting about and even destroy the story media came to report in exchange for a regurgitated package retooled to fit a predetermined, routine format.

I think we all would have been better served by a more humane approach.