Talking through grief

When tragedy strikes our close-knit communities, being the news person who prods for information to get out to the public is never an easy job.

You might see us right alongside the firefighters and police officers, asking the tough questions that most people don’t want to answer. We might also ask victims, their friends, their family members or eyewitnesses if they’re willing to talk, always respecting their right to say no. We hope people don’t see us as an intrusion but as an outlet.

When we report on a fire, for instance, our first concern is for the people affected. People want to know if they’re OK and, beyond that, how people can help them get back on their feet. And, of course, people want to know the details of how the fire happened, partly so everyone has their stories straight and partly to guard against such a thing happening again.

A more difficult situation presents itself when reporting on crime, missing people or abnormal deaths. As journalists, it’s our job to provide a balanced representation of the facts, but as small-town journalists, our goal, when possible, is to capture the stories behind the people in the story.

In Wednesday’s Enterprise, the girlfriend of Richard “Joey” Aubin stepped forward for an interview in hopes that the man she knew and loved would be remembered for more than the actions that apparently ended his life: fleeing from and fighting with state police.

People are not solely defined by their final actions, and we hope to convey that.

So does Amanda Murphy, in regard to her boyfriend who died at the age of 28 – too soon.

Often when a local person dies under negative circumstances, people who love him or her are anguished by police and media reports that give details about the final incident without sharing the good parts of that person’s life. It’s usually hard, however, for a reporter to know whom to ask for this kind of thing – and harder still to find a loved one who’s up to the task of giving an interview through grief. We give them as much time as they need, but in the meantime, this is a daily paper with daily deadlines.

It’s a recipe for stirring up trouble, since bad news so often travels faster than good. But the bad news is also truth, and it’s not fair to blame the messenger for it.

It’s also important to remember the other side of this story: The state trooper who shot and killed Mr. Aubin reportedly prevented him from grabbing another trooper’s pistol and using it against them. That, too, would have been a tragic outcome.

There may yet be more to this story, but our point is, we feel for the troopers as well. They must be deeply scarred by this. It would be good to hear their accounts – perhaps after an internal investigation is finished.

There’s no easy way to handle these situations, but please know that we do understand: These are our neighbors involved in these situations, not just names. They’re well-rounded people, and we will continue to do whatever we can to share, as much as possible, the fullness of their personalities.

That becomes much more possible when loved ones like Ms. Murphy step up and tell their stories.