Sunday, November 11, 2007

Rowan Ford story is a difficult one for reporters

One of the most difficult things a reporter ever has to do is to cover the murder of a child.

Even though more than 13 years had passed when I wrote the chapter in The Turner Report book on The Carthage Press' coverage of the death of eight-year-old Doug Ringler of Carthage, it wasn't any easier than it was when he was first discovered missing, then like Rowan Ford, turned out to have been murdered by someone who was trusted by the family.

So I understand the difficulty journalists have in doing this kind of sordid story, and as usual, under extremely trying circumstances, the media has done an outstanding job, including everyone from The Joplin Globe and Neosho Daily News, KODE, KSNF, KOAM, KFJX, to the Springfield television stations, and the Associated Press.

With so much for them to cover, there has been little time for reflection on the horrific events, but two journalists, Editor Carol Stark of the Joplin Globe and reporter Michelle Sherwood of KSPR has offered some thoughts today.

For her weekly column, Mrs. Stark asked Newton County Sheriff Ken Copeland how can we protect our children from the monsters that exist in this society:

We get involved,” he told me.

That means not only watching out for our own children, but others.

“Maybe you see a little one walking alongside the road,” he said. “You know they shouldn’t be there. Call someone. You could be saving that child’s life.”

Mrs. Stark concludes the column with an astute observation:

The men who have been charged were not strangers to Rowan, which makes the circumstances even more deplorable if that’s possible.

“Family values aren’t what they once were,” said Copeland. “Then, when the unthinkable happens, parents seem truly surprised that their child has become a victim.”

Copeland and I talked for quite some time. His anger and frustration was evident. I walked away feeling as though there is no longer an age of innocence. So many kids don’t get a chance to just be kids.

Michelle Sherwood's blog post
dealt directly with how these tragic stories affect reporters:

This is the most horrible crime against a child I can imagine.
It terrifies me to think that there are people out there who could carry out such a brutal act.

Even though it's nothing compared to those who knew and loved Rowan,
I have to say that it's pretty disturbing to cover...
I did not have to go out to any of the crime scenes, but it is pretty difficult and disturbing to read the things that allegedly happened to her...
It has been weighing heavily on my mind.

At the same time, it's exhausting.
We've all been working endless hours trying to get the latest information on the case, and work through our station's challenges.

Miss Sherwood offers an excellent suggestion that news organizations should consider when their reporters have to cover traumatic stories such as the Rowan Ford murder:

My personal thought is that news organizations should be required to bring in counselors for their staff when things like this happen. Law enforcement agencies do it for their officers because they see so much. Journalists are in many ways in the thick of it, too.

Anyway, please do not forget Rowan.
She trusted someone, and he violated it in the worst way.
Her story cannot be something that's covered one week and forgotten the next.


Anonymous said...

You obviously don't watch Springfield news given your love affair with KSPR. Hint-they haven't been "all over it" when you compare it to others.

Anonymous said...

Isn't that special? The above commentator chose this horrible story to show his butt over petty, parochial inter-station rivalry. I wonder where he or she works?

Anonymous said...

Horrifying story. One that has no doubt frightened parents everywhere in Missouri.

The Lorax said...

Anonymous 2, I'm a Sherwood fan...

her post was clearly upset with the story, and proud of her team's coverage... perhaps that's what Anon#1 was coming away with?

I'm sure KSPR and others have done a classy job covering the tragedy.

That requires skill, experience... and understanding when people call in disgusted at the news station for talking about the terrible story.

I have to think their anger was displaced... needing to be angry at someone... but unable to strike out at the two men in jail.

I have a problem with Copeland's family values statement. I'm sure he'd like to think all is nice and Rockwell-painted, but the Ozarks have a terribly high rate of child abuse. It's been that way for a while... and it's something to do with the culture.

A rose-colored set of glasses view of our lifestyles here is only dismissing a terrible and ever-present problem in the region.

I wish it weren't so.

Hug your babies. Forgive by the end of the day. Live life. And please, don't assume someone else will bother the police if you see something out of sorts. Do it yourself. Do it right away.

Anonymous said...

After seeing these yoyos that did this horrible crime, you can go to your neighborhood "discount" store and just look around, people look like that and are everywhere. Makes you wonder are they child molestors, perverts, creeps, walking around among us all the time. When you hear the amount of abuse that goes on with children and families, the worthless bastards must be everywhere.

Anonymous said...

Personally I don't see how some of these reporters can talk about this stuff with a straight face. They must not be parents. The first time I heard she had been found I of course listened to see if they had anybody in custody. I turned the channel after 15 seconds of hearing graphic details of how they raped her and dumped her body. I turn to another channel only to hear them talk about how she begged for her mother while they raped her. You all must be made of stone. I realize you have a job to do but to read the teleprompter with no emotion as if you were reading about the weather just turns my stomach. Just typing this almost brings a tear to my eye. Hopefully a "reporter" will read this and act more accordingly.

The Lorax said...

And yet, people questioned the report issued by Paul Adler @ KY3... as too raw.

He's a parent. Emotion and disgust clearly came through... along with the guts of the story.

I thought he was spot on. (If others did that, I'm sorry... I missed your report).