Sunday, September 25, 2011

Thoughts on 'Carrying Darisabel,' an Emmy award and a journalist's choice

We got news last night that YDR visual journalist Jason Plotkin won a regional Emmy award for his documentary "Carrying Darisabel." A 2-year-old girl had been viciously beaten, and Jason told the story of the people who tried to save her life, and how Darisabel's death haunted them.

It's a huge moment for Jason and for the YDR: As his editor, Brad Jennings, noted, it's the first time a newspaper organization has won a mid-Atlantic Emmy, as the competition is made up mainly of television news organizations. Historically, newspapers take still shots and TV gives you video. Not anymore.

The Emmy award is fantastic news. I was privileged to see Jason at work on this film from beginning to end, to see the daily devotion. He believed in the story so strongly he practically willed it into existence. His focus never faded or frayed, and yet, where some journalists by their nature would have resisted too many voices offering their best advice, Jason invited people in. He listened, and, through a combination of skill and personality, took the best of what others had to offer and still kept the film true to his vision.

I've been a reporter and editor for 25 years. I've never seen anything like it.

But it is odd to celebrate a "victory" in the Emmys because -- and I know Jason believes this too -- this film should never have existed. Darisabel should still be here. There should have been nothing to make a film about.

And that is where a journalist stands at a crossroads.

Do you turn away from something so painful to a family and to a community, so fraught with damage, so incomprehensible to so many? Do you decide we're all better off if we don't look for too long at what happened here? Do you pull up short because, to do the story, you will be seen as taking advantage of a tragedy?

Or do you tell the story and draw your community in? Insist that they look? Embrace others' pain as part of the storytelling? Understand that some will see you as an opportunist, and do it anyway?

 For a journalist like Jason, there really is no choice. You tell the story. You tell it because you know it's real. Darisabel died. Her family was devastated. The people who tried to save her life have holes inside. Yet they go on. When they tell their story, we come closer to knowing how -- and maybe we walk away a little bit better equipped to make our way in this world, to understand what's going on around us, and to decide what, if anything, we would like to do about it.

Watch and listen. It will hurt. But you will see both darkness and light.