three stories that needed telling

Tragedy at heart of epic traffic backup

Two weeks ago, three drivers died on our local roadways in a series of unrelated crashes that spurred a traffic nightmare on the freeway that everyone loved to talk about, we at TDS loved to write about and our online readers loved to click on.

The day after the crashes, it occurred to me that no one at our news organization had made any calls trying to track down the family members of the three people who were killed. So I made the rounds, left messages at questionable numbers with nondescript voicemail greetings and heard, well, nothing — at first.

Gradually, though, I got messages on my own voicemail from those long-shot cold calls, and soon I had successfully pitched the idea of a family-based folo to my editor. Then, the reporting really began. On Thursday, I talked with a woman who lost her stepfather. Friday, it was a man who lost his brother. And Tuesday, four children and a widow... and then I had to sit down and put all of their stories — and all of their loved ones — into words.

The result was the story that appeared on the front page of The Desert Sun this morning, and I actually spent most of the morning upset about how it turned out. An editor's attempt to add more detail to the story ended up introducing a small error, and what had been my first three paragraphs had been expanded quite a bit to become a six-paragraph intro that I didn't quite recognize when I saw it underneath my name in print.

But in my frustration, I lost sight of the fact that the bulk of the story was still pretty much how I had written it, and it was still my reporting that informed the words.

Luckily, the story was so well received throughout the newsroom and, really, throughout the company that I had to take a second look at how I had managed to get insight into three families and tell the three uniquely engaging stories of how they're dealing with loss and who it is they lost.

These were stories that needed to be told, and I'm glad I was entrusted (by editors and families alike) with the responsibility of telling them.