I returned to the office after being away most of the last three weeks to find not only the usual mounds of newspapers and paperwork to catch up with, but several dramatic, tragic local stories.
They include the deaths of a mother and child in front of a dance studio in Brewster — an illegal immigrant whom police said was drunk has been charged — the tears of a Garrison family flowing anew after the recent arrest of an 18-year-old man in connection with the death of their beloved husband, father and community member who was killed on the last day of last year; the fatal hit-and-run of a 36-year-old Garnerville man, “the kind of guy who had 300 best friends,” his sister said; and yet another apparent suicide death off the Tappan Zee Bridge, a 33-year-old Massachusetts woman.
Certainly, there were hundreds more memorable stories in the newspaper and on our Web site. But these — along with the heroics of a Rockland schools superintendent confronted in his office by a gunman yesterday — are some of the real heart-stoppers. They give us pause to reflect on the randomness of crime, on despair and heartbreak, on the fragility of life.
As a 30-year journalist, I’ve heard over and over throughout my career — and often been asked directly — about why we love “sensationalism,” why we “only” publish bad news, and on and on. Generally, unless there’s time for some good give-and-take, I don’t answer because the questions are based on falsehoods or, at the very least, misconceptions.
But I will take a moment to answer this question, less frequently asked: What is it about such stories that makes us read them? For we do read them, we editors and reporters. So do readers of the paper and the Web site. We know that through conversations, phone calls, letters, Web “hits” and what we hear in our communities.
And we do read them, not just “watch” or “listen” through other media or via word-of-mouth. We undertake the act of reading to understand, to let our minds and hearts grasp facts and their implications. Reading helps us breathe.
We read these stories because they move us. They frighten us. They hurt us. They can anger us. But most of all, they connect us. We all have families, we all have friends, we all have loved ones, we all care about somebody. And when we read about tragedies and real-life drama, we are instantly connected through our humanity.