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BY ROBERT PRICE Californian executive editor firstname.lastname@example.org
Every pedestrian fatality is a tragic one, no matter who the victim or what the circumstances, but the death of Gregorio Edward Leyva last week was especially heart-wrenching. Gregorio was 4. He was hit by an SUV while crossing the street near his home. His mother was apparently just a few feet away.
Our reporter, Jason Kotowski, who covers crime and public safety, went to the family’s home to learn the details. He came back with a sad and poignant report that told us something of who this boy was, how he lived and what he meant to the people who loved him. He described the family’s living conditions dispassionately:
“Many nights he just slept on the floor, or in any clear space he found in the small, cluttered two-bedroom house he shared with his mother and seven of his 11 siblings. ...
“Inside, clothes were strewn throughout the living room. In one corner an unmade bed was covered with dirty clothes. Eight people now live in the one-bathroom house.”
That struck many — some of whom emailed Kotowski directly — as insulting and unwarranted.
READER: “Was it really necessary, particularly in his family's mourning, to tell all about their living conditions and child-rearing practices? You might have used more tact — anyone with a hint of intelligence could infer that he wasn't being properly attended to without adding insults to the family's grief.”
— Cheryl Crow
READER: “I am certain the family is having a very difficult time right now but did you need to add to their grief by describing their very personal living conditions? That has nothing to do with the loss of their son and is none of our business. I think you owe them an apology.”
— Martha Gray
PRICE: The story also attracted a number of online comments, most of them critical. Here’s one:
READER: “What a shameful article. How about instead of talking about how dirty the living room was, and what kinds of dogs were in the yard, and how he did things he wasn't supposed to (like every little kid), you talk about how hurt the close community is? ... ... If money was tight, ... forgive them if they couldn't afford a home in the up-town fenced-in neighborhoods.”
— Amber Harris
PRICE: Did the circumstances of Gregorio’s home life contribute to this tragedy? Did his mother’s debilitating lupus and lack of mobility contribute? It's certainly possible. The question is, did the article go over the top in describing these things? Were these details relevant or was this piling on?
I asked Jason to share some the complaint emails he received. Here is one of his responses:
“I believe the living conditions are an important part of this story, and I would have described them regardless of whether the boy was rich or poor. The family was very open with us about this, even speaking on camera about how they live and how there is little discipline. It's likely a factor in what led to the boy's death since his mother told him to cross outside the crosswalk and didn't hold his hand. I know they're in mourning, and we described that too, but it's important to examine the situation as a whole.”
PRICE: This discussion underscores one of the most difficult challenges of our job: How to offer context without sacrificing compassion; how to honor our obligation to give a reasonably complete accounting of the facts without being unnecessarily harsh or judgemental. Don’t think we don’t ask those questions, and don’t think we don’t care about the answers, because we do.
READER: Why have there been so many "production delays" connected to a late delivery of the Bakersfield Californian over the past several months? These delays always seem to fall on the weekends. What exactly is the cause of this frequent delay and what is being done to eliminate this ongoing situation? ... We have been daily subscribers for almost 24 years and never remember having this problem.
PRICE: Your paper may be late occasionally for one of three general reasons, and "production delay" is the least likely. The issue with Saturday's delivery probably involved a problem with our presses, But delays involving our newsroom and pagination departments are very rare: We’ve had exactly one that I can recall, going back several years, and that was this past Jan. 31, a Friday night. A chemical leak in a backup system at about 9:30 p.m. caused a small fire and a power outage, and it cut off our systems access. It was a delicate fix, but city firefighters and our production crew, IT department, network contractors and management team responded borderline-heroically with hustle, ingenuity, good humor and hamburgers. We were back up by 12:30 a.m. and the delivery of your newspaper was only slightly delayed.
Not that it matters much on the customer's end, but late delivery of your paper is more often associated with our circulation department. Those folks work hard too, but it can be hard to find and keep reliable pre-dawn delivery people. We’ve got those issues worked out now but there will be isolated routes that from time to time must deal with transition. Thanks for being patient. In the meantime, check out our e-edition, which is free with your newspaper subscription. It’s never wet and almost never late, as the following reader can attest.
READER: First, thank you for the outstanding e-edition of TBC. One of the features I love is the ability to email an article. When a reader clicks on that option, however, the default forwarding wording is, "Nice article for you to read..." Unfortunately, the news being forwarded is often not "nice.” It's often anything but nice. I almost always change that word to "An” (as in “an article for you to read”). I recommend that TBC make that change in the default format language.
A lesser observation is that the default forwarding line ends with "check it out.” I usually delete those words because they seem a little too cute or casual, again, because of the nature of the news being forwarded.
Thanks for listening, and thanks for providing the forum you do for reader input.
— Jon Reid
PRICE: I agree. Sharing stories about ebola outbreaks and human trafficking does not lend itself to cutesy sign-offs. I asked COO Logan Molen if we can do anything about it. His response:
“Our vendor (Olive) says making this change will require an app update. Because there are other fixes and features to be included in that update, it'll take awhile (they're saying late February). I did ask them to make the change, but when it goes into effect is TBD.”
PRICE: One final note. Starting next week, Sound Off will be in your Saturday paper.
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This feedback forum is designed to give readers a way to voice criticisms and compliments or ask questions about news coverage. Your questions, which may be edited for space, are answered by Robert Price.
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