Friday, January 8, 2010

Three sides to every story

One of the paramount rules in journalism is to tell the whole story. When it came to a column published in the Jan. 2 Tracy Press, I didn't get that right.

That story relied on a source who, from what I can gather, was mostly truthful. But the source definitely came from a certain perspective, and the story ran without countervailing perspective.

Balance of opinion is not always desirable or necessary in a report. However, in this case, the father of my column's subject, the recently killed Spencer Sampson, had a lot to add. (See what he added to the story in my most recent column, which should be the first story on this page.)

He gave me a raw, emotional look into a family dealing with the death of its strength — as Spencer's father had a few run-ins with the law and his mother had a past problem with methamphetamines, Spencer was the foundation of the clan.

Spencer's death ripped gaping holes in the hearts of his family members and friends, and only someone like Ronnie, Spencer's father, could have revealed that. I could hear it in his voice and see it in his face. I saw a man that, while he had definitely made mistakes in his past, was trying to be better for his family and dearly loved his son.

Ronnie filled in the missing pieces of Spencer's story.

He was also a face-to-face reminder that these stories deal with real people and powerful emotions, and they can sometimes have deep and painful impacts.

Both are lessons that shouldn't be forgotten by a storyteller.

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