Interview went too far?

Published 11:17 am Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The interview of Olympic skier Bode Miller wasn’t something I watched live. On Sunday night, I was driving home after spending Valentine’s weekend away.

Miller, whose 29-year-old brother died of what was believed to be a seizure while trying to make the U.S. Team for Sochi, had won a bronze medal, and Christin Cooper interviewed him afterward.

NBC had previously highlighted him as one of its pre-Olympic stars, one of those aspects being the brother. When Miller broached the subject of his brother, Cooper asked a series of questions about it. After the third question, he broke down in tears.

Reading the transcript, it doesn’t seem all that bad. Watching the video, however, with the cameras panning in on him after he finally has an emotional breakdown, and staying with it until he walks away was excruciating.

Twitter, where I first read of the interview, exploded with some tame and some very angry tweets for both the reporter and NBC itself.

On Monday morning, Miller himself took to Twitter to take up for the reporter, saying that he didn’t think she was trying to cause pain.

It certainly reminds me of the many times that I’ve had to ask uncomfortable questions, or to write stories that I know will cast people, who are otherwise good folks, in a negative light.

A few months back, when a little girl died in a car accident, J.P. King Middle School had a memorial service, with family and friends there. Now, not only did I have to ask the family about the girl (they were not comfortable talking, so I did not push it), but also we were fresh off of running a story on the academic review that the schools had received the previous year, and I just knew that I was not the school’s favorite person.

But I felt like it was important for the community to know that the school was doing something, something important to help her friends, classmates and family as part of the grieving process.

I also felt like it was important to try and talk to the family and friends, to give them a forum to help memorialize their little girl, who had been taken from them far too soon. Somewhere, in an old newspaper clipping, she could live on.

I also know, somewhere deep down, that if I didn’t cover things that made myself, or others, uncomfortable – if all we ran were positive, happy features on people and the community – that we would eventually go out of business.

In the meantime, some people might prefer those stories, and it would certainly make my job easier, but it would also be irresponsible.

I once heard it said that by driving through a town, you could tell the quality of the newspaper.

If you went through a town, and you saw more bad things than good, then you had a newspaper that was too comfortable with its leaders. The status quo would rule.

People with dissenting and different ideas would never be heard, and things would stay the same.

Now, that’s perhaps giving newspapers too much credit. After all, someone else still has to work to fix things, to bring more jobs in, to help the taxpayers save money.

Yet, being a forum for that discussion is an important first step.

People are being critical of NBC for pulling what it did for the ratings, and perhaps that is true, but I also can’t help but think about every time I’ve heard it said that The Tidewater News ran such and such to sell newspapers.

I don’t get a bonus for the number of newspaper rack sales. I don’t get a bonus for how many clicks stories get on the website. I’m taking less money working in journalism than I could have made in other industries because I feel like it is important.

Even with advances in social media, a media company such as a newspaper is still the best way for citizens to hold government accountable. So that people will not be exploited, so that the schools will get better, and so Western Tidewater will become a better place to raise a family.

I don’t get a bonus for that, either, but that’s why I’m in local media. You can make more money elsewhere, but where you can really make a difference is on the local level. And I think we have.

CAIN MADDEN is the managing editor of The Tidewater News. He can be contacted at 562-3187 or