Always striving to do better
The beauty of being a journalist is that it offers opportunities to help others, then the next day it can offer a hard reminder how easy it is to screw up.
Last week a standard press release arrived from our local CHP office reporting a single car accident involving a fatality. The car veered off the road and into a tree, according to the CHP report. The driver, Jonathan Grisham, 47, was later pronounced dead at Tahoe Forest Hospital.
Our mistake in a news brief that ran on Sept. 21 was to assume that Grisham died as a result of the collision. Wrong.
Unfortunately it took family members and friends ” who were, and undoubtedly still are, grieving their loss ” to inform us that Mr. Grisham, a noted pediatric emergency physician at Children’s Hospital Oakland and an assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at UC San Francisco, died of natural causes just prior to hitting a tree.
In the story, from information we received from a submitted obituary about when the Grisham family moved to Truckee, we referred to Mr. Grisham as a “recent Truckee transplant.” For a family involved in the community and with children in Truckee schools, that characterization only made a horrible time worse.
Newsrooms receive a continuous flow of bad news that is pulled together and placed into the newspaper, sometimes under deadline and sometimes not. That process, though, can move along without delving a little deeper into an official release or thinking about how a family that recently moved to a community would refer to themselves.
The result is what appeared in the paper: An incomplete look at the life of, by all accounts, a truly incredible man. And for a newspaper that strives to serve an incredible community, that is unacceptable.
To the family and friends of Dr. Jonathan Grisham, we apologize.
Other times, though, we get it right, and can help make a difference.
The recent hurricane disasters are a good example. After two columns in the paper about an effort in town to have Truckee adopt the destroyed Alabama town of Bayou Le Batre, we received a number of e-mails and phone calls from people all over the country asking how they can assist Jane Loomis, students at Sierra High School and the Town of Truckee.
A similar response followed after we ran a piece about an Iraq-bound soldier whose car was towed and impounded after he left it parked where, in hindsight, he probably shouldn’t have.
Despite that, a dozen people contacted me to see how they could help pay the absent soldier’s impound fees.
Fortunately, we do good more often than we blow it. But it’s those mistakes that make us strive to do better.
Jamie Bate is the editor of the Sierra Sun. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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