I am so disappointed in the Chattanooga Times-Free Press for their insensitive handling of the tragic death of the six-year-old Walker County boy. There is a place for "standard practice" and "public records." There is also a place for common sense, compassion and respect. The TFP obviously can't see the difference.
Moments after the preliminary report was released Thursday, the paper's website blared, "Bus driver who hit and killed 6-year-old identified." Someone actually wrote and approved this sensational headline, breathlessly revealing the name of the "killer."
Yes, it was public record, but what was the benefit to readers, of knowing this poor man's name?
Was it of any benefit, in determining his responsibility, or lack thereof? Other than creating friction within the community, what did this accomplish?
Now that it has been made official that driver will not be charged, is our local paper happy about its sensational website headline that led thousands of readers to his name? He is an innocent man, not charged with anything, now or ever. It could have happened to you, or to me.
Adding insult to injury, the TFP's reporter hounded the bus driver at his home, before the investigation was complete. What response were they hoping for? Tears? A confession? Any statement that might interfere with an ongoing investigation? When the superintendent of schools told a TFP reporter the driver was taking some days off for therapy, did the editors say, "That's too bad, go knock on his door!"
Did they think he'd be having a party on his front porch? Through no fault of his own, he accidentally ran over a child, a young friend that he had seen every day for months. If this happened to you, how would you like a newspaper reporter banging on your door, hoping to ask, "What do you have to say for yourself?"
The Chattanooga Times Free Press should be embarrassed. The fact that it is not is very disturbing. A local newspaper used to be our best friend, someone we looked forward to seeing each day. I cannot understand why it is trying to become our worst enemy.
I'm sure the editor will take this opportunity to write their typical, high and mighty, "We're always right" Sunday column, patting themselves on the back for being fearless, tenacious truth-seekers. Hit and run. Never mind the damage they leave behind.
One can only hope new leadership can save this city's newspaper before it completes its path to self-destruction.
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The Times Free Press has specialized in deceptive and inflammatory headlines for some time. At least this time they didn't try to make it cute as well.
They should have left the driver alone. That would have been simple decency, but perhaps that is too much to expect of them.
John L. Odom
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The TFP is trying to find itself in an era where more and more readers get their news online. These are the "Dark Ages" for this news source. They have to figure out how to attract more money selling news and ads than operating expenses.
The path the paper is taking toward sensationalism and negativity is not the fault of a handful of reporters. These decisions are made at the top of the vision casting and executed via the ranking editors. And the Dark Ages team is formed to carry out the business model that will make owners money.
And there's nothing wrong with that. Though they are sinking into what a rising number of local residents would call a sleaze pit of desperation, they are breaking no laws. Yet by my limited power to discern they are careless at the controls as they balance a community's desire to know stuff with the tact it takes to to be a productive partner with said community.
If a news outlet makes a community more skeptical of its fellow citizens by broadly assuming ill-intent and by casting suspicion on innocent citizens who appear on the TFP radar, then that news outlet does not make the community better. The current owners ultimately leave town unable to make money and leave the town in worse shape than when they set up shop.
I am but one opinion, but I am one.
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Mr. Helms raises a valid point about insensitivity at the TFP. However, my beef with the TFP is that they tend to take sides in local issues via their reporting. I am not talking about the op-ed page, but straight reporting.
For instance, they recently ran a headline at the top of the City section that read, "Union at Chattanooga's VW plant could help worker safety, some say." The "some sayers" were two former workers at VW who were pro-union. Really? Basing a headline on the word of two biased individuals tells me that the TFP and the reporter both have a bias toward the union. Although the reporter did speak with representatives at VW who noted that their safety record was far better than the industry average, I wish he had gone a bit further with his research and obtained statistics from plants represented by the UAW as well as non-union auto assembly plants. That would tell a more complete and honest story. Of course, had he done that, it might have ruined the headline.
Having toured the VW plant and marveling at the ergonomics that have been engineered into the assembly line, I seriously doubt that the presence of the UAW would make much of a difference there in terms of worker safety. The "worker safety" issue is, in my opinion, merely a distraction from the real issue which is getting cash flowing into the UAW's depleted coffers via union dues from the workers at VW.