Jessica Sieff: Questioning the people’s right to know it allPublished 10:02am Friday, April 2, 2010
That everything, always, is constantly evolving.
That it’s not enough to simply understand. You have to take that understanding and you have to try and re-examine it.
Because if life is always changing … so are we.
I believe that you can know your job inside out, like the back of your hand with your eyes closed – but you’re not doing your job if you’re not constantly asking the question of how to do it better.
I believe in asking a lot of questions and in long-awaited answers. Sometimes you have to wait years for that answer.
Sometimes you have to wait a lifetime.
With that said, as a reporter, I believe in the people’s right to know. Because well, for one, it’s what we crazy kids in the newsroom are founded upon and as a basic element of society, it’s important.
That right, obviously, comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s as simple as the right to know about a public meeting of your community officials. So that you can be aware of the goings on if you so choose. Like the details of a health care bill or the ethics of an official or the financial stability of a school.
Even with a firm belief in that, last week I questioned the people’s right to know.
From my seat inside a courtroom I watched a family’s every inner working, every emotion from agony and pain to disbelief and even detachment played out before the eyes of strangers and the lenses of camera capturing every minute.
Inside that courtroom, intimate details of their lives were spoken some probably before it was ever thought it would lead them to where they were, a crowded room, the words repeated back to them through the TV.
As I sat there, taking notes, watching heads bow, faces wince and wonder, I thought about families.
I thought about telling those friends of mine who worry about what their children are going to be like as they grow up, to keep them close.
I thought about telling all of them to be grateful for having joy where others have to endure situations of far greater pain.
Because on several occasions we’ll all grow up and be different people than we once were, different from when we were still children.
And that loss is great.
But then I realized that was not the point.
I realized that what I was jotting down in my notebook were the painful realities of some other family a family that also held their children close.
In some way, shape or form, we all take notes on other people’s iniquities. We put them up on a stand, we broadcast them on television.
We point them out.
We take away the humanity and simply make an example out of them forgetting that they’re actually happening to real people. Forgetting they could happen to any one of us.
Those details may be appropriate for a judge and jury in the interest of upholding justice – sure. But I had to take a moment and ask, what right do we all have to other people’s tragedies?
Maybe a lot. There is an argument for it. Maybe none at all.
There is an argument for that, too. That is the beauty of it all really. The constant quest.
I consider it an unfortunate but not at all unappreciated experience that has opened my eyes to what we journalists do here – and I am still learning.
But outside that courtroom as we were all strangers once again just waiting for the doors to open and the personal lives of others to be revealed to us, I realized the impact we reporters have on not only the people we’re telling stories to but the people we’re telling those stories about.
My hope is that as a society the world continues to ask questions. I hope we go back and look again. That we try to understand. That we will realize we’re not in a position of judging one another, really.
Because the point is it is not that some are to be made an example of.
It is that we are all, every single one of us on this earth, every day, supposed to be examples for each other.
And because there is always something to be learned, because everything we do – from the people we love to the professions we hold dear – is always evolving, I know I’ll continue to ask the questions because it doesn’t just make me a better reporter.
It makes me a better human being.
Jessica Sieff is a reporter for Leader Publications.
Reach her at