By Shawn Loughlin
Currently, we find ourselves in the age of outrage. When people see something online they don’t like – by God, they will tell you they disagree and then probably call you an idiot somewhere along the way.
Everyone has an opinion; that’s not new. But now, with social media, you can take that opinion right to the top for everyone to see.
If you don’t like U.S. President Donald Trump, you can Tweet at him. If you disagree with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, you can go to his Facebook page and tell him he sucks.
With this in mind, think of how things have changed for those of us who tell stories. Whether it’s the merry band of social justice warriors or just your standard Facebook followers, many seem perpetually on the cusp of being outraged and if they’re outraged, you better believe you’re going to hear about it.
Years ago, Rolling Stone received a massive amount of backlash for its cover story on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber. While the cover was tasteless and tone-deaf (Tsarnaev was pictured like a teen heartthrob), the story, written by Janet Reitman, was well-researched and insightful.
Many on Facebook were upset by the cover, but went a step further, suggesting that writing about Tsarnaev at all was a misstep and that Rolling Stone should be ashamed. Detractors suggested the magazine write about the bombing survivors instead of Tsarnaev. There is a story to be written about the survivors – a great story – but to suggest a journalist should ignore the perpetrator is simply naive.
For the longest time, the suggested solution to stopping terrorists groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda was to stop covering the attacks. So, if Trump stops talking about his wall....
If journalists stop covering “bad” news, they’re irresponsibly presenting an incomplete view of the world. If news channels only broadcast good news, it presents a false narrative, like state-run news in Russia or North Korea (or Doug Ford’s Ontario).
The Blyth Festival ran into this when a local media outlet ran a piece on the Festival’s In the Wake of Wettlaufer production, slated for this season. People, who hadn’t watched the piece or read anything about the show, were outraged to know the Festival was telling the story of a mass murderer. How dare they?
These people – the eternally outraged – were no doubt up in arms when Wettlaufer’s crimes were exposed. How could this happen? Very often news coverage results in policy changes, increased awareness or criminal charges. Ignoring Wettlaufer’s story paves the way for someone to follow in her footsteps. (What if the Boston Globe didn’t report on pedophile priests because it might upset some people?)
That’s not even considering the Festival’s stated method of writing the play, which is focused on families after many conversations with the families of Wettlaufer’s victims.
We’ve had it here at The Citizen. As a local news organization, it’s our job to report the news. After posting a picture of a car accident, we were inundated with comments asking how we could post such a picture. There were no people in our picture and no one was hurt (we knew that before posting the picture) and one of Blyth’s main roads was blocked – sounds like something people should know.
But no, as responsible journalists, according to some people, we should have turned our backs. I’m not even sure how people see these stories with their heads so far in the sand.
Of course, sensitivity is always part of the equation when storytelling, but turning a blind eye benefits no one in an informed society.