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Passion should drive profession

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Araceli Esparza, Editor in Chief

Araceli Esparza, Editor in Chief

Every profession has its share of individuals who make the job either embarrassing or discouraging for others involved in that particular field.

There are people who pursue the world of business more so for the love of the money rather than the passion for the role they have in economics. In some medical clinics, there are doctors who care more about the white coat that distinguishes them as medical personnel and not about the knowledge and skills with which they help others in need.

This scenario is no different in journalism, and it is proven day by day in the manner in which stories are pursued and considered newsworthy.

For example, exactly one week ago, a 49-year-old man led police on a three-hour freeway chase after it was found that he had expired registration tags. Michael A. Thayer, a Riverside resident, eventually lost his life – on live television – when he was gunned down by law enforcement officers at the end of the pursuit.

From almost the beginning of the chase in Rancho Cucamonga to the end of it in San Diego, reporters hovered above the scene in their news helicopters to televise a bird’s-eye view of the entire incident. The journalists’ perspective was so detailed, it caught a glimpse of the suspect checking his pager, scribbling a note (which was later thrown out the window) and smoking a cigarette.

Throughout the extensive length of the pursuit, no one believed Thayer would get away. After all, these suspects cannot escape when their attempts are shadowed by television and police helicopters overhead.

No one thought Friday’s chase would also end in death. Most expected Thayer to voluntarily surrender once his 1979 Datsun 280ZX ran out of gas or once his tires were punctured by the spike strips commonly used by police officials.

But during last week’s incident, Thayer voluntarily “surrendered” to officials with a gun in hand.

Cameras from television helicopters were still rolling overhead, and, though they pulled the angle back from the scene, the incident was shown to its completion. Its entirety included an image of Thayer falling onto the freeway pavement after he was shot numerous times by California Highway Patrol and San Diego police officers.

In the aftermath, journalists admitted their regrets in being the source of viewers’ account of the pursuit’s outcome. After all, some are still apologizing for their live coverage of a man who committed suicide on a freeway overpass in 1998.

After last year’s incident, it seems these media people have not learned their lessons, because they are given pardons for televising such outcomes once again.

News directors have said the media’s role is to inform the public of events without censoring the news. There is no argument to the fact that reporting facts is its responsibility; but to further say Friday’s incident was newsworthy because of its effect on freeway traffic is extremely disturbing.

Is this the kind of justification aspiring reporters should expect? One would hope not, because journalism should be about a love for the field, not its ratings.

Moreover, some television stations have re-ran the incident in their news programs, continuing to bring to life the dramatic episode that was viewed by audiences at a time in which younger viewers spend time watching television.

If the media is so regretful in televising last year’s suicide, why did it not take even more detailed precautions in rolling the cameras for another unpredictable freeway chase?

It may have been OK to follow the pursuit until the point in which it was apparent that Thayer’s efforts to flee were halted by the spike strips (considering that such coverage was even necessary). But by continuing to pursue the matter via wide-angle lenses, the media went back on its word to take precautions and be more sensitive toward its customers.

Nothing can be done to make up for what happened. But there is a hope that, in light of this issue, the media will still be supported by its audience, and it will not need to apologize for any careless of its actions again and again (and again).

Araceli Esparza, a senior journalism major, is editor in chief of the Campus Times. She can be reached by e-mail at esparzaa@ulv.edu.

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