Editorial and Update on Western Market Accident
(Crystal A. Proxmire, 2/9/2011)
As many of you are familiar, I run The Ferndale 115 News in my free time while also working as a marketing consultant for Western Market. Please note that I am writing this as a Ferndale View and it expresses only my personal opinions, not those of Western Market or anyone else involved.
On Friday a horrific accident left a co-worker severely injured. I have been in the unfortunate position of being on both ends of the story – torn between wanting to share the story and also having to read and deal with the many inaccurate accounts of what happened and trying to correct wrongs that the media is doing to this poor family and my work family.
I am absolutely sickened at the way the media handles stories like this. I have always been adamant that anonymous comments on stories are harmful and contrary to journalistic principles. Being in the position to watch people first hand suffering because of the hateful, slanderous, mean things that anonymous idiots say online is making me even more passionate about the fact they are wrong.
Additionally there have been many false reports out there about what happened. Associated Press reports that her legs were crushed have spread like wildfire online. There was a report that the woman died. Another that she was treated and released the same day. Some are saying that the woman over-filled the cardboard baler and was sucked into the machine when she tried to push some cardboard back. This is simply a speculation made by people who were trying to figure out what happened, not a confirmed fact. Only until an investigation takes place and the injured woman tells her side will people really understand what prompted her to reach with both hands into a moving machine. Another website gives inappropriately graphic descriptions of injuries that family members say are not true.
We get phone calls and messages from people who read these reports and online comments and are hurt and confused by them. I have watched people break down and cry, or get angry with frustration at having to put up with this on top of everything else.
The victim in this case is a 52-year-old, long time employee who was well-loved by everybody. But even in good health she was careful of her privacy. When I’d take pictures for the website or the Facebook page, she would politely decline. And of course I would respect that. She and I have talked about the pervasiveness of having an online life, and I know that she would be appalled to know the way that her accident is being spread and twisted around.
In this case I have tried to be respectful of that in this situation. But it is really hard, because I know people in the community care about the woman and how she is doing.
My coworkers and bosses at Western Market, along with the victim and her family, just want all of the attention, especially the unfair media spotlight, to stop so that they can have one less stress on them as we all heal in our own ways. But of course people want to be informed too.
I do not want to add to the problem. I will say that the media outlets who have refused to take down misinformation, or have allowed – even encouraged – nasty comments will be called out once this situation settles. I am personally grateful for the way The Detroit News removed inappropriate comments, and I wish that others would have the same degree of professionalism. (Or better yet the professionalism not to allow comments at all in the first place). People have been using this story to make fun of the victim, to speculate about the management of our store, to spread lies about the quality of the store and our products, and have even made personal attacks against the owners of the store – who are well-known through the community to be very good, caring, involved people.
As far as the injured woman goes, her right arm was amputated on Saturday and it is going to take weeks or months to know how well her left arm will heal. She is heavily medicated and unable to see visitors besides immediate family.
Apart from the disrespectful media coverage and nasty comments, everyone at Western is warmed by the outpouring of love we have received in person and on our Facebook page. It would be tacky for me to cut and paste people’s comments here because those are personal messages that people sent in support of the Market – not put up with the intention of having the media snag and exploit their sentiments. However, everyone is welcome to see the out-pouring of love by going to the Western Market Facebook page at www.facebook.com/westernmarket.
This page is the best place for people to leave positive public comments and support. When our coworker is lucid it is going to be hard for her to read those horrific stories and mean comments that other sites have left up. But it will be so nice to show her what real community love, support, and communication is like.
So please, leave well-wishes on the Facebook page, and look for updates there. Also if you would like to drop off cards or gifts they can be left with any of the cashiers. There is already a large box full of love waiting to be delivered when we are able to see her again.
Though this woman was a private person, I feel good about telling you that she was a strong and resilient person. Western Market is like a big family, and she was one of the ladies that anyone in the store could rely on and loved to work with. Even on the most stressful days she was able to keep a smiling, easy-going attitude that I personally have found refreshing and inspiring. Other employees often turned to her for advice or support. She has a large, supportive family of her own, plus a staff of nearly 70 at the Market who are going to continue to do anything we can to help her in her recovery.
Her life was saved by quick-thinking employees and the quick response of the Ferndale Fire and Police Departments, who all acted with clear heads despite having personal ties to the woman involved.
Yes, there was blood and crushed bones and the horror of having her arms mangled in giant industrial machine. It is a horrible thing that even the most graphic description in a newspaper can not fully describe. I admit that as a reporter I am drawn to those kind of details. I am grateful in a way that I was sick in the hospital myself on the day of the accident because I don’t know if I could have kept myself from wanting to take pictures or hear all the gory details. That is a part of human nature too. Psychologically we like to shiver, we like fear and suspense, and violence.
However, telling a story well means telling all of it. Not just the gory parts that encourage readers to slow down like watching a traffic accident. But a more complete picture, and a more human one.
The saying “If it bleeds it leads” is an unfortunate by product of a news media that is more concerned with selling ads and gaining readership with shocking or exploitative stories, rather than a true search for truth, understanding and information for readers. It’s hard to blame specific reporters because this is just the way that the industry has evolved over the past 20 years, especially with increased conglomeration of news outlets and increased relationships between the media and the advertisers/corporations that own them.
Over the course of my life I have seen how television news has degenerated because of the influx of commercialism. There is less information and more fluff. Less detailed reporting and more quick, sensational headlines. And much more exploitation. One of the reasons I wanted to run my own newspaper is because I think that readers deserve better.
There will always be people who want a place to vent and express their vile sides by anonymously attacking other people. Those kind of people can continue to read exploitative news sites that pander to that kind of behavior. I am continuously told that big media giant AOL is going to be more successful in Ferndale because they allow online comments and I don’t. Maybe they will get more readers because of it. But I would rather have just 10 readers who are going to sincerely value my work and learn from it, than a hundred who read it just because I give them a place to bully other people.
The catch 22 that I am in with this story is tough. If I had staff members or other writers I would hand this over to them, since clearly I have a conflict of interest. But since I don’t – and since I can’t bring myself to do it the way the media typically does – the best that I can do is tell you my personal view. This is something I encourage others to do as well. Don’t just write quick, thoughtless comments when you really want other people to understand a topic. Take the time to write a real letter to the editor or article about whatever it is you want to share. We have been conditioned to respond to quick sound-bite-style information, but true learning and understanding comes from reading and writing with a little more depth than that.
Everything that I do personally affects my work as a journalist. I just gave an interview to Ferndale Friends about my life and about the challenges that I have over come to get here. One thing that the article did not go into as much as I would have liked, is how over the years I have personally been affected by the media, and how I have watched it degenerate over the years. I think that I need to be more open with the public and readers about where I am coming from and why I am so passionate about having a media that “informs, inspires and unites,” rather than one that exploits tragedy for profits, thrives on speed over accuracy, and focuses more on drama than education. I’m going to start doing that more, because it is really important.
This history of journalism and what we learn in journalism classes about ethics can translate into the real world. I am going to find a way to make that happen better, and I am deeply deeply sorry for my friend, my bosses, my coworkers, and for the people in this community who have been hurt by not only this incident, but by the sad state that the news media is currently in.
I am sorry that because of my personal ties to the victim, that I can’t go into more detail about what happened or the effect this is having on the community and the people involved. I hope that in the future I can tell this better. But for now I need to take a day or two to really process what has happened and think about this story and how one would go about doing it right.
The Ferndale 115 News will most likely be updated again later this weekend, once I’ve had a chance to get past my health issues and once things have returned more to normal at work. I urge anyone who wants to help to please drop off your cards or gifts to Western Market and stay connected and informed on the Facebook page.