On Tunnel Vision


Tunnel vision. That mode you go into when you’ve got your head buried in five deadlines at once, money on the line and probably your professional reputation too if you don’t deliver the goods. It happens to all of us in one form or another and for me, it usually takes something awful to snap myself out of it. I got snapped out of mine in a major way by two big news stories this week. One made national headlines, the other is all over the news in Chicago.

The national one you already know; the death of Heath Ledger. Everybody was shocked over the passing of this talented 28-year old who seemed to have everything going for him. So shocked that some in our business couldn’t resist connecting the dots to the worst possible explanations with nothing more than a few scraps of information. No surprise there, really.

Folio blogger Dylan Stableford’s two cents on all this pretty much sum it up for me, and while I normally nod my head, agree quietly and let things go, another blog entry made me passionate enough to blog about the whole thing. Stableford laments the shoddy journalism connected to Ledger’s death, the haste which some in the media took rumor and partial information, tying them together however it seemed to fit best.

Chicago media has been dealing with its own loss this week–the death of WBBM-TV anchor Randy Salerno. He was killed in a snowmobiling accident while out with some friends enjoying a moment away from the news rat race. What’s worse was Salerno wasn’t even operating the snowmobile–he was a passenger on a friend’s machine. The friend went into the hospital and is now facing charges. It’s a tragedy all around.

I never knew Salerno, but I was pretty disgusted with his treatment in blog called Tim Worstall’s Tabloid Edition, where the day after the incident, Worstall stitched together some news about Salerno with barely enough original content to call it a writeup. The gist of the Worstall entry was basically, “Hey Salerno’s dead, another reason to not drink and drive.” Worstall chose to linger over gory details of the accident, the whole of his commentary essentially being “Ewwwww.”

Hey, I get it. I know this guy didn’t know Salerno, and from the looks of the posts I gave the once-over to, he’s barely a blogger, let alone a colleague. However, I myself AM a colleague of the late Randy Salerno. As a 14-year television reporter, shooter, editor and producer, I felt the loss the way anybody would in this business. For those who didn’t know the man, it’s a reminder that the insanity of the daily grind isn’t all there is. Stop and take time to enjoy the short time we’ve all got to run around on the planet. Don’t let the job eat your whole life. That’s what Salerno was trying to do when he died–trying to have a life.

 But people like the tabloid types Dylan Stableford rightly complained about in his blog entry don’t get it. All they see is another opportunity to dump some dirt, and they don’t want any facts or human feeling to get in their way when they’re doing it.

Complaining about Bonnie Fuller (mentioned in Stabledford’s piece) or Worstall in a public forum like I’m doing here doesn’t really have much of a point except to remind people–mostly myself if truth be told–not to get so carried away with any of this. It’s easy to get cynical, lose sight of the fact that we’re not above the stories we cover. But then the work of Fuller and Worstall come along as a reminder of what you can turn into if you’re not careful.

Maybe these two writers were having bad days, maybe they’re really GOOD writers the rest of the time. Maybe they’re complete jackasses with no talent whatsoever. I don’t know, and I don’t care. Professionally speaking, they can live forever or go homeless tomorrow, either way I’ll probably never think of either one again. But I do wonder what the hell either one was thinking when they posted on these two tragedies. I suppose I do owe Bonnie Fuller and Tim Worstall some thanks–anything that makes me sit up long enough to remember there’s more to the writing game than deadlines and paychecks is never a bad thing.

So to these two writers, I say thanks for giving me pause, even if you are examples of what I’d like to avoid becoming.