Milk carton TV
: Watching the hours of TV devoted to the tragedy of the latest missing child in Florida is, well, uncomfortable. It is a good thing that TV is using its power to spread the word and, perhaps, help find the child; it has worked before. But once the word is spread, is it really necessary to eek out the angsts of the family — and the suspicions of police and anchors — at length, again and again? It’s a sick sort of voyeurism, witnessing pain.
When I was a reporter on the midnight shift in Chicago — where I sat and waited until somebody killed somebody or died a miserable death to write stories under our standing slugs: slash, crash, slay, burn — I frequently had the unfortunate duty of calling the family of a victim of some sort of terrible crime or accident to get grist for our mill: human-interest quotes and pictures. I quickly learned the best line to use, the same one you hear on TV: Please tell us about your loved one, tell us more than just the name and the cold details that will appear in the paper. We’re acting as if we and the audience are concerned. And maybe we are. But it’s still an intrusion.
How much do we need to know about these horrible missing-children cases? What is the best way to serve? I think we could exchanges long, painful, salt-in-wound interviews with distraught relatives in front of their humble homes for more-frequent alerts.