The line we walk

I take little pleasure in winning a first prize for Best News Story from the Arizona Newspapers Association awards this year. The article, titled “Show of support: 575 at service of grief,” was about a tragedy that consumed my congregation, a tragedy created by someone I considered a friend.

It was a story I wish I had never had to write, but it was a story that needed to be told.

As a member of Temple Emanuel, I would have attended the June 6, 2012, Service of Grief regardless of whether it was my job to write about events in the Valley’s Jewish community. Incomprehensibly to me and others who knew James Butwin, he had shot and killed his family (wife Yafit, and three children, Malissa, Daniel and Matthew) and himself a few days earlier. This sent a shock wave through our congregation, the Jewish community and the larger community, and brought a mass media focus on our shul that night.

Being there in the role of both a mourner and a Jewish News reporter demonstrated the difference between us and the rest of the media. That difference was an added level of responsibility and accountability for what I had to do. The people affected by this tragedy were not just “sources” or “subjects” but people with whom my co-workers and I shared the pain. It was our duty to tell the story of how this community coped with the calamity. Although we wish it had never happened, the story’s focus was on the way people responded to provide one another a safe space for grieving. It was as though after the fire of death, a still small voice of hope spoke that evening.

As a community newspaper with a small staff, we cannot be insulated from the events we cover in the same way that a large media company can be. Although we avoid  putting ourselves or our opinions into our news coverage, we are inherently part of the community and have a great stake in getting the story right, whether it involves good or bad things that happen in this community, and being sure that others in the community understand the things that are their right to know.

The good I can see in receiving this award is that it underlines what our role is and that it allows another safe space, this time to remember those gone in the tragedy and the way that community members supported one another in their grief.

To read more about the ANA awards Jewish News won this year, click here.

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