Op/Ed: Tillamook Deserves Better

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The community conversation continues about the appropriateness of images published by media sources, and how stories are reported. Neal Lemery’s article outlined the issue, https://www.tillamookcountypioneer.net/op-ed-an-example-of-bad-taste-and-worse/ and here, Romy Carver relates her response when asking why publish photos of accidents? When it causes harm and trauma and is not necessary to tell the story. The Tillamook County Sheriff’s office agrees and is no longer publishing accident photos. Hundreds of comments on social media seem to agree — there is no reason to print, post or publish accident photos, especially within hours of an accident. Romy’s call to action is below.
By Romy Carver, guest columnist
What makes Tillamook a special place to live? Most of us will say that it’s the people. We are very resilient and determined to help one another during hardships; we stick together with a pioneer spirit. Our annual Charity Drive sets records in generosity each year in a community with a low median income. Why? Because we care.
Around here, we all worry when we hear sirens, learn there was an accident, and a fatality. We probably know the person(s) involved; if we don’t, someone we know does. There seem to be fewer than three degrees of separation between any of us. We collectively hold our breath, and we’re already sad before we know the details. Bad news hits this community extra hard. Yet we respect the needs of the family for privacy as we would want ours respected during such a time.

A true community newspaper should be at the heart of improving life: cheering on local efforts and people, and reporting the news in a truthful, respectful manner. It balances the public’s “need to know” with dignity and respect for community members.
Times have changed. The Headlight-Herald doesn’t care about the local community anymore. Maybe it started when the old printing press was shut down and jobs were lost, or when the paper was purchased and run by outsiders (it’s owned by a Salem company which owns several newspapers in four states). Maybe it’s the fact that most of the H-H’s content is behind a pay wall (requires a paid subscription to read) even important safety matters. The Headlight-Herald used to understand the culture of our small, tight-knit community, but the H-H is not our community paper anymore. They now seem to delight in posting information that is unnecessary and hurtful. I recall a few years back when they published the address and photos of the home where a shooting took place two hours earlier, compromising the family and potentially an active crime scene. Those who complained were pointedly ignored.
Recently an early morning fatal car wreck involved a young mother with her baby and dog. The car hit a tractor in the dark, and only the baby survived. That same morning, the Headlight-Herald posted a graphic photo of the mangled car, including the license plate. This was shared widely online, including on a Facebook page where the husband begged people to take it down. A friend who spoke directly to the husband says that as soon as he and his wife’s sister and mother were notified, they ran the photo. He wasn’t consulted; his wishes didn’t matter. Would it hurt to give him 24 hours to notify the rest of the family? It used to be that way.
When I and others commented on the H-H’s post to express our disgust, we were dismissed with a crisp, “Thank you for your concern.” Then they deleted our comments. I wrote them offline and asked why, and they responded that they “removed comments that were insulting or attacking our newspaper or other readers.” Our comments were neither.
The Headlight-Herald told me that the husband did not “specifically” ask them to remove it, but I am certain they saw his comments. I directly told them that the husband wanted it removed. They claimed that they shared the picture to “remind people to drive more safely.” How patronizing and insulting to us all. Our whole community was already sickened and grieving. The H-H was exploiting this family’s pain to boost its own online presence with increased social media shares, “likes,” and clicks, though they deny it.
An industry article about journalistic integrity states that the ethical line is drawn at: “…what do I need to show to demonstrate to the population what’s actually happened?” The Headlight-Herald had provided the names, place, date, time, car description, tractor description, and the unfortunate outcome. We didn’t need the picture. In fact, since the car hit a tractor, they chose to post a photo of a tractor too – except they chose a picture of a tractor that wasn’t involved and belongs to my friend’s father. This hurt TWO families. One local store covered the front page of that edition of the paper in their display, out of respect for customers.
Just a few days ago, they ran an online article about a juvenile who shot his brother in the face with a small crossbow. Naturally people were curious and worried; luckily the child will be okay. I was grateful they didn’t put up a picture of the crossbow to ‘remind’ us all not to shoot each other with crossbows, until I read the comments. The H-H allowed a stream of obscenity-laced, angry, judgmental comments toward the parents, along with the usual speculation and gossip. Then the H-H commented that they were trying to obtain a photo of the crossbow. How embarrassing. When at least five of us respectfully protested this, our comments were deleted by the H-H and we were blocked from commenting for the rest of the night. I guess freedom of the press is important, but freedom of speech for readers is not, unless it contains gossip and obscenities.
Former editors were respectful and accountable: Mark Dickson was truly a great man who was ALWAYS kind and fair. Mary Faith Bell went on to become a Tillamook County Commissioner well known for her ability to hear all sides of issues while being even handed and compassionate. I don’t even know the name of the person at the paper who I interacted with. He/she was too busy being defensive and deleting criticism.
A good guideline for all communication is: 1) is it true? 2) is it kind? and 3) is it necessary? If it’s not all three, it doesn’t need to be said, published or posted. If community members should refrain from gossip, shouldn’t the H-H also? A friend told me they stayed in a domestic violence situation out of fear of the humiliation and danger they would face due to the Headlight-Herald. Does this help our community?
As a lifelong resident here I’m sad, but I’m done with the Headlight-Herald under its current management. I won’t be buying their gossip rag; I won’t “like” or share their posts; I won’t support them in any way. If you agree, I hope you’ll join me.
My boycott means little to them, but if you advertise in the Headlight-Herald and you agree that Tillamook deserves better, I’m asking you to reconsider your financial support. We aren’t here to serve them; they are supposed to serve us and they aren’t. Maybe a cash flow situation will inspire them to answer to their readers and community. Tillamook deserves better than this.