This week has been a tough one newswise, specifically for residents of Sammamish.
How the community, and our Patch online community, has responded to these events is so telling, though, and so touching, so I wanted to take a few minutes before we head into a hopefully uneventful holiday weekend to share my thoughts as a reporter on covering some of the difficult things we have faced as a community over the last few days.
Earlier this week, I heard through third-party sources that there had been a teen suicide in Sammamish, and it was clear that community members were seeking information. I struggled with how best to get appropriate information out to people while respecting the privacy of the family during a difficult time. Luckily, I have a great team of colleagues and editors, especially Patch's assitant regional editor, Margaret Santjer, to discuss these issues with. As a policy, we don't name victims of suicide unless there's an overwhelming reason to do so, such as if the death occurs in a public location, but I wanted to give people access to resources rather than leave the community to search for information. I hope we've been able to provide some useful information.
At the same time that I was grappling with the best and most sensitive way to handle that situation, one of our Facebook Page users asked if we could find out what was happening near her home at Samantha Smith Elementary. The and I was so grateful to Amy for turning to Patch for information and for sharing what she saw.
Personally, as the first reports indicated the girl who died was 7 years old, I couldn't help but identify with her family, as my own son is the same age.
I have learned recently through coverage of another very sad on Mercer Island, that in community journalism, in close communities such as ours, sometimes how the news is presented is as important to us as the facts themselves. Some of the people involved expressed anger toward me for my comments on the story, and perhaps rightly so. The people involved, or close to the news we report, are not simply facts, and even if we report everything accurately, there's a subtext that we must take into account as we weigh our approach. Sometimes, the need to get information out makes it impossible to flesh out every aspect of a story before getting the basics out--it's a balancing act, to be sure.
The comments on the resulting stories from these difficult local incidents have been a testament to the caring of the community. Even people with opinions that could be taken wrong have been unerringly appropriate in how they express themselves, stating what they think without unduly attacking or name-calling, and forwarding what is important dialogue when tragedy strikes. People from out of the area who have commented have weighed in with resources for loved ones of those affected. Some people chose to contact me privately by email, which I always welcome, also.
What an amazing thing it is to see the community response to news that leaves us reeling and highlights the fragility of our lives on this planet. Sometimes the inherent anonymity online can lead to inappropriate or harsh comments, things we would never say to someone's face, but I am so impressed with how the local nature and community spirit of Sammamish-Issaquah Patch users overrides those sometimes unpleasant tendencies of Internet commenting.
Perhaps most touching to me was a personal email I received from a community member in the midst of everything, asking if I was ok. "I realize its your job, but understand it must be painful all the same. Hugs to you and take care of yourself," she wrote. To be honest, her kind note was the first thing that made me realize that yeah, it's sometimes tough to be immersed in the news that I know will be painful to many. Her words brought a tear to my eye, which surprised me a little, and made me so proud to be part of this community.
The same Patch user later let me know about , which for me was another exercise, for lack of a better word, in balanced reporting. Rekdahl was a well-liked teacher in our area, who suffered a long battle with cancer, but also had recently been under a cloud of suspicion on federal child pornography charges. In many cases, a journalist would have an easy, "sexy," headline in such a case that could easily become a viral online story, but again the context of this person's life, especially in light of the community expressions of loss, to me, dictated honoring that loss that many of his former students, who supported him through his struggles, feel, though I'm sure there are mixed feelings in the community in light of the charges he faced (I have a call in to the prosecutor's office, but as far as I know at this time Rekdahl had not been convicted of or pled guilty to any wrongdoing at the time of his death). Sometimes, just the facts with no sugar-coating or judgment, is all you can do.
And then you hug your children, and thank your lucky stars for your community.
I hope we all have a quiet weekend appreciating our loved ones; I know that's my main agenda.