In journalism, reporters sometimes blamed for another’s downfall

by Jen Lynds

Today, I think that the majority of people interested in reading newspapers on a regular basis want to do so without actually feeling the material.
They don’t want to hold the paper up in front of them or feel it brush between their fingers. They aren’t interested in all 20 or 30 pages of material.
Now, most readers want to see the newspaper online. They want to shrink or enlarge the articles on their mobile devices as they flip to their favorite parts.
No matter how much the industry has changed, one thing remains the same –no one wants to be the target of an embarrassing or unflattering article.
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about a man convicted of drug possession. And, as happens frequently, I knew the individual I wrote the story about. Although he was silent when the judge asked him if he had anything to say in court at the time of his sentencing, he seemed remorseful. He had obviously taken steps to recover from his addiction.
A few days later, someone told me that the man “hated my guts.”
I was taken aback for a few seconds, but I quickly recovered. I had heard that before, as have most of my colleagues. In my case, it most often happens after I have written an article about an individual accused of a crime.
I think that most people believe that some individuals are above reproach. The trusted long time secretary, for example, could never embezzle money from the church. The young entrepreneur and youth sports coach could never be using drugs.
But it is getting harder to think like that.
The nation has spent years reeling from a downturn in the economy, and a number of Mainers have lost their jobs. With bills to pay and not enough money to do it with, embezzlement is becoming more common.
At the same time, drugs have a grip on the state. Many addicts are no longer in search of heroin or cocaine or LSD. They are opening medicine cabinets or faking pain at a doctor’s office or emergency room so they can secure prescription drugs like fentanyl, oxycontin and morphine.
The shaky economy and the escalating drug problem means that reporters are writing more articles about respected community members who stand accused of stealing money or selling, using or possessing drugs.
When I write articles like that, I often hear from people who vouch for that individual’s character. They don’t believe the charges at all, or accuse me of gleefully taking part in a character assassination.
That is not true. In fact, when I am in the courtroom, I sometimes can’t believe what I am seeing and hearing.
A few years ago, I watched the boy I had a crush on in elementary school walk shackled into the courtroom, arrested after severely injuring another man in a fight.
In that same courtroom a few years prior, I saw the guy who would have graduated high school with me had he not dropped out. We once shared the driver’s education car and he talked so much that our instructor would regularly scream “shut up!”
He was preparing to go to jail after having been found guilty of a sex crime. He is now a registered sex offender.
Just last year, I was in court to write about the sentencing of a young woman caught smuggling drugs into the Aroostook County Jail. She was a year older than I, but we spent four years playing soccer together. She was a fullback, just like me, and she stood just across from me to help defend the goal.
I remember going back to that image when I saw her.
I was in disbelief that the friendly young woman who stood across from me on the soccer field was standing across from me in handcuffs.
Her family was there for her sentencing. They spoke about her drug addiction, which took hold when she was in high school. They talked about how wonderful she was when she was not high.
I needed a photo to go along with the article. I hate taking pictures in court. It feels so intrusive. Oftentimes, you are watching someone’s life fall apart all around them, and you are standing there documenting it.
I picked my camera up, made sure it was in focus, and just quickly snapped a photo.
The minute I did that, I saw it. She winced just slightly, and looked at her family with so much shame in her eyes that I couldn’t look at her anymore.
I was again watching one of those times. Her life was breaking apart and I had just captured physical evidence.
She went off to serve several years in prison.
For me, there are so many other difficult moments in this job. I hate winter because it means that I am going to have to write articles about people who have been seriously injured or killed when they lost control of their vehicles on icy roads. The onset of cold means I will be writing about chimney fires or homes that have totally burned down.
And there are drugs and alcohol. There are so many heartbreaking moments due to drugs and alcohol.
It is hard to accept that someone blames you for their downfall. And it is unfair. Most reporters would love to write positive stories every day.
To do that, however, everyone has to join in. Blame is not going to help. Personal responsibility will.