EDITORIAL – What happened? How did it happen? What is going to happen? Tell us.
Questions like these were asked from the moment the recent plane crash in St. George occurred, taking four young lives. These questions were asked from the moment the head-on collision occurred last week, taking the life of a father and husband. These questions are asked when changes are made in our towns and when laws are passed that please or displease our sense of life and society and government.
How did it happen?
Perhaps it is human nature to ask questions and then rue hearing the answers. In small communities, lives intersect closely.
At St. George News, if we discover information or if a report is brought to us that includes uncomfortable news that may illuminate what happened, it is our job to report it. It is not our job to draw conclusions from the report discovered or received.
If we are selective and choose against publishing uncomfortable reports, if we choose against presenting issues that arise, then we are not to be trusted.
It is the calling of community to comfort each other. It is the calling of a news service to report answers to the factual questions, to report the story wherever it may lead.
Because my interviewee in yesterday’s exclusive is now recasting how his story came to be told, and because as many found the story objectionable as did those who appreciated it, it is incumbent on me to tell you how it developed and to address issues you have raised.
I received a call Monday morning from Justin Ross telling me he was the last person to talk to the four, that he had been with them the night of the crash and knew things that were not being reported. He asked to meet with me in person. He invited me to come to him where he was staying. I went directly and met with him in the home of his brother and sister-in-law with them present.
Before he told his story, I explained that (1) I would be recording the interview, (2) we would not publish on anonymous source, therefore if he did not decide in the end to permit his name on the story it would not be told, and (3) whatever he was going to tell me I would likely be obligated to share with the investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board. He agreed to talk with the investigator himself and told me his story.
The recorded interview lasted 21 minutes.
I agreed to review the story as written with him before publishing it. I wrote the story; I excluded things he surmised that he could not know, and restricted it to his first-hand experience. I read the story to him three times over the phone, I made changes to words he used that he asked be made, he provided names, and he corrected locations. I told him when I received the photo he offered, I would publish. He sent me one photo and we published the story at 3:27 p.m. He provided a second group photo by email and then by text two-and-a-half hours later, at 5:56 p.m. I later removed the group photo at his request because he said some included in the group asked it be removed.
At 6:03 p.m. I received a call from Stephanie Christensen who asked if I was the one to tell about her experience with the boys in the plane crash. I took her statement, which told a different aspect of the night in question, and obtained her permission to give her contact information to the NTSB investigator. We published a second post reflecting Christensen’s interview just after 7 p.m. At 10:02 p.m. she texted and emailed her own written statement asking it replace the interviewed statement. We did so at 10:11 p.m.
Before being contacted by Ross, I had not received any information about anything personal about the young men involved in the plane crash or about their activities.
St. George News is not the advocate for anyone involved and it is not the trier or decider of fact. We do not draw judgments in our news reporting.
The two accounts we have published in this recent incident may represent other experiences that night or they may be unique; it is possible they may be rebutted. Together, the two stories indicate a large group gathering, a later larger group gathering, and the small group of five young men in a vehicle between the two gatherings. Some of the times stated for events related through witness testimony raise questions, as some of our readers have pointed out. This is for the investigation to sort out. For example, if Justin Ross had his last conversation with his friends at 1:10 a.m., and the plane is visible on security camera footage taking off the runway at 1:20 a.m., how is that possible? If both times are accurate, were the four already at the airport rather than on the freeway as Ross thought when that telephone conversation took place? I don’t know and it is not my job to resolve the question.
There are more questions than solid conclusions at this time; tragedies like this do not happen without an ensuing investigation. And the federal investigation is not expected to give final report for months.
Among the foci of the investigation are, what happened in the hours before the accident, what environmental factors were at play, did the aircraft and its engine have a condition that factored in, what was the psychological and physiological state of the persons involved. The ultimate findings may reflect any one or more of such factors. But you already know that.
Whatever may be determined, information on all these points does emerge and some of it is brought to our attention.
Let’s consider a larger question. Shall we be a community that discourages people from being forthright when something bad happens? Shall we stone a member of our community who is willing to speak up when those around him or her say ‘don’t tell them’ this or that? Does either of those who gave interview deserve to be shamed for telling the truth as they experienced it? To my knowledge, nobody can dispute that the gatherings, the parties, occurred. Neither of those who gave interview did so suggesting anyone flew a plane impaired. They did not give interview with any malice, rather with considerable expression of love for their friends.
Is your message, St. George community, don’t ask and whatever you do don’t tell? Does circling wagons spare us difficulties, does it serve our best interests? Parents, if your child comes forward and tells you the backstory to something that happened on the playground, do you affirm them for having the integrity and the courage to speak honestly? Or do you teach them to be silent and revise the history of the events so it plays more palatably lest someone or something be shown in a less-than-positive light?
For those who ask we quash this kind of information, that sheds light on an incident, you are asking us to not tell the whole truth. We cannot do that.
The episodes of the past week have been horrific tragedies, regardless of the factors that contributed to them. On a personal level, I have questioned whether I have the stomach for this job I have accepted as editor of a news service for an involved and tight-knit community. The harder news is to report, the closer I examine what is the role of St. George News. I do so with effort, with counsel, and with fear.
News is often uncomfortable, it often reveals things we wish were not so or that we fear may be misinterpreted. It frequently presents things that polarize points of view, as can our slate of opinion columnists for example.
I wish that life were so simple that a united “yes!” could be answered to the now cliché outcry, “can’t we all just get along?” It was the not-so-pristine Rodney King who offered that plea, by the way, a plea that has ironically become society’s top-pick exclamation whenever it finds itself prickling one another like a bed of porcupines.
The truth is: Life is messy.
Accidents happen. Crimes happen. All sorts of things happen. Like it or not, people do things and things occur in the midst of people living their lives. Sometimes, what we do finds us in the midst of negative or unfortunate events. Communities have subsets that seek to actively change and even legislate things in their favor.
Is it not better to be aware of these happenings before and as they happen? Or do we prefer to turn a blind eye and cover our ears and pretend something that displeases us did not happen? Might you later cry out, “why didn’t you tell us that movement was afloat or this, that or the other thing happened?”
Does the St. George News community deserve to know what we discover? I think so. I actually trust the heart of this community to take what is learned and decide what to do with it, to uphold one another in the midst of tragedies, and to respond appropriately to uncomfortable truths. That is your job, community.
Our job at St. George News is to give you the information, whatever it is, pleasant or unpleasant, and to invite you to do with it what you will and to talk about it freely here on the platform we offer you.
That is my heart for St. George News.
Copyright 2012 St. George News.