The Undercurrent: Finding the silver lining in negative news

Kathryn Jones

Kathryn Jones

Reporters often get attacked for focusing on negative news. The phrase “shoot the messenger” comes from the Greek playwright Sophocles who wrote that no one likes the person who brings bad news.

Unfortunately, news, by its definition, often is negative. Something changes. Someone dies. Accidents happen. People do inexplicably terrible things to each other.

Such was the case with last weekend’s killing of two veterans – one well known, one not, but still important – at Rough Creek Lodge’s gun range. Another veteran with a troubled past is accused of the double killing.

It’s a story that could give anyone nightmares. But we reporters cannot just look the other way when bad things happen.

A friend who is an award-winning reporter for another area newspaper is a good example of someone who has been attacked for writing “negative” news.

She has covered some very important stories about “negative” things — wrongdoing by elected officials, abused children, wrongful deaths.  And she has been called some not-too-nice names and has even been threatened over some of her past reporting.

Yes, she and I could have fewer gray hairs and wrinkles if we didn’t get involved in covering such negative news. But isn’t the greater good served by the public being made aware that things like this can happen – and to perhaps even prevent them from happening again in the future?

This week I reported for the Glen Rose Current and the The New York Times about the shooting deaths of American Sniper best-selling author and retired Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield. Reporters simply have to put aside their emotions and do their jobs on stories like this. We can go home and cry later and wake up in the middle of the night with severe heartburn and tormented thoughts, but we cannot let our emotions and personal desires to remain positive interfere with our professionalism.

Reporting the truth to “end victimization, stop corruption or save a life,” as my friend put it, is more important than having a wrinkle-free complexion and no gray hairs from stress. And just because some reporters don’t shy away from controversy doesn’t mean they’re “negative” people. Some things deserve to be exposed – and readers deserve that.

It’s very sad what happened to Kyle and Littlefield and their families and friends who are grieving for husbands, fathers, brothers and friends taken away too soon. But it’s also very sad for the family of Eddie Ray Routh, the young veteran charged with capital murder in the crime, who repeatedly tried to get help for him.

As I learned from my reporting this week, Routh’s mother reportedly sought out Kyle because he often worked with veterans by taking them hunting, shooting in a non-war setting or just hanging out with guys who’d seen battlefield horrors. Routh’s parents both begged the Veterans Administration hospital in Dallas not to release Routh just days before the shooting.

It all makes me very sad, personally, too, to think about so many people hurting and that our town is in the national news for something horrible that happened near here. But I take a lot of satisfaction from the work I did this week, chasing down records, doing interviews, driving back and forth from Glen Rose to Stephenville to Lancaster and Midlothian and finding bits and pieces of information to tell the tale about how these three lives intersected and two of them ended on a gun range not far from where I live. Trying to find out the truth makes me happy.

Not all of the pieces of the puzzle are there yet to explain what happened and why – and they may never all come together. We learn a bit more every day.

If there is a “silver lining” to this awful event, it may be that veterans who are sent to faraway countries under often brutal conditions, and then asked to kill people and eventually return home with expectations that they should then “transition” back to civilian life, often need a great deal of help – physically, psychologically and even financially. People adjust differently. Some can’t adjust at all.

Of course, most returning veterans – even those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which Routh reportedly was being treated for – aren’t accused of shooting two people to death or trading their “soul for a new truck.” Routh’s sister told authorities that’s what her brother told her after the shooting. Routh was driving a black Ford 250 pickup she hadn’t seen before – it turned out to be Kyle’s truck that Routh allegedly stole after the shootings.

The negative stories we reporters write often are what stick in the minds of readers – especially critics of the media – who don’t want to hear about them. But at the Current, there are plenty of examples of “positive” stories we’ve covered – last month’s “Dream Day” at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center to help families coping with a severe illness by offering them a day of fun, for example.

We happen to think it’s positive to cover ALL the kinds of news in our community – the good, the bad and, yes, the sometimes ugly. Thankfully, the latter doesn’t occur around here very often.

I hope this highly publicized crime shines a national spotlight on veterans and the fact that our government needs to treat them with a lot more honor and dignity and do whatever is necessary to help them after they return from the battlefield. PTSD is a serious problem and vets who suffer from it should be given the help they need and not treated like disposables to be tossed aside after they have completed their missions and served their country. Too many with severe mental issues are falling through the cracks.

My own father, a World War II veteran who was wounded on an aircraft carrier while serving in the U.S. Navy, cannot get something as simple as prescriptions filled by the VA hospital without waiting in line for hours. This is how we treat people who risked their necks for us and for others? That’s a crime in itself.

So take some positive from the negative. If we don’t know about problems, if we don’t look for them and shine a light on them, how in the world can we possibly fix them?

Kathryn Jones is the editor of the Glen Rose Current.

7 Responses to The Undercurrent: Finding the silver lining in negative news

  1. Kathy Cruz Reply

    February 13, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    I never cease to be dismayed when I see community newspapers ignoring issues that impact local residents. Nothing good can come of a watchdog sleeping on the job. Keep up the good work, Kathryn. Covering the news is not being “negative” – it’s being a true public servant. You have shown that your readers are more important than having a comfortable relationship with those in power. I personally don’t care that much whether my so-called “negative” reporting brings a new wrinkle or gray hair; I just want to be able to look at myself in the mirror.

    • Kathryn Reply

      February 13, 2013 at 2:05 pm

      Amen, Kathy! And you keep up the great work! Hood County is lucky to have you looking out for the public interest.

  2. Marcy Tanter Reply

    February 9, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    All good points! :)

  3. Nancy Pricer Reply

    February 9, 2013 at 11:54 am

    It’s been said that when life gives you lemons make lemonade. What’s not been said is that you have to add the right amount of sugar to make it good. You seem to know what that amount is!

    • Kathryn Reply

      February 9, 2013 at 5:08 pm

      Thank you so much, Nancy!

  4. Warren Lewis Reply

    February 8, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    Thank you for covering “the good, bad and the ugly”. I have no idea how you do it, but you cover so much material in such a short amount of time. Your reporting is well researched and unvarnished. Thank you for doing your homework and magically covering so much ground.

    • Kathryn Reply

      February 9, 2013 at 5:11 pm

      Thank you so much, Warren. I seem to have found my voice here. I just want to be a catalyst for good in our community and to get people thinking about issues. That sounds corny, but that’s what drives me. The reward is when readers appreciate it.

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