Once upon a time I was an aspiring media professional. My very first foray into the business was as summer newspaper intern with The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Near the end of my internship, I was given an assignment that haunts me to this very day.
I was told to go out to a Cleveland suburb where a shooter was reportedly spraying bullets in a residential neighborhood.
When I arrived at scene, police had cordoned off the block where the shooter – a troubled 17 year-old kid – was holed up in his house. After what seemed like hours, but probably were more like minutes, a SWAT team stormed the house.
I expected an exchange of gunfire, but there was none. Then paramedics were summoned to the house, where they removed the lifeless body of the kid, who, it turned out, had turned the gun on himself.
It shook me to my very core. Not the least because the deceased was only two years younger than I was.
But as I learned in J-school, I had to get to story; I had to interview witnesses.
So I approached the young man’s family, which had huddled behind the police cordon, along with neighbors that had been evacuated.
They were near hysterical. But, still, I asked them if they had anything to say to the newspaper.
They looked right through me. And I didn’t blame them. Because I intruded upon them at a time when they should have been left alone with their grief.
I was reminded of that experience when heard the tragic story of Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse who worked at King Edward VII Hospital in London, where expected mum Kate Middleton was treated this week.
Jacintha was so traumatized by a hoax played on her by two oh-so-clever Australian radio jocks – who pretended to be Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles calling for Kate – that she killed herself yesterday.
My heart breaks for the deceased nurse and her family.
The tragedy confirms to me what I have learned during a media career of more than two decades: Many of those who work in print, digital, radio and television are closer to the prince of this world than to Christ.
Their God-lessness informs their approach to mass communication. If they can put something in print, or over the airwaves, that creates buzz, that attracts readers or listeners or viewers, they’re good to go with it.
Even if it causes a poor nurse so much despair, she finds her life no longer worth living.