National Hug a Newsperson Day is coming next month. I’d bet a kidney that the biggest reaction reporters get from their community, at best, is a hearty laugh: “Good try old boy, but no bone.”
Even so, the Iowa Newspaper Association encourages the public to celebrate by giving their favorite news reporter a hug. “We’re thankful for all they do to serve their communities and we hope you are too,” a statement cheerfully announced on the organization’s Facebook page last year.
But the declaration begs the question: At a time where the public perceives news as sensationalized and biased, and journalists as opportunistic sleazebags, is the public ready to physically embrace their local reporters?
I think not.
In September, Central Iowa news crews eagerly licked their chops waiting for their next story. Police had arrested a Marshalltown school board member on charges of animal cruelty and child endangerment. Her incarceration was brief, but any reprieve she might have felt following her release was curtailed after she locked herself inside the women’s restroom at the county sheriff’s office to avoid the publicity.
“This is a public place. We can’t have you barricading in the restroom, Mrs. Derby,” entreated chief jail administrator Joel Phillips through the restroom door. “Yes, we will be able to get something where you’ll be able to conceal yourself. I understand.”
She didn’t, of course. The only covering Mrs. Derby received was her photo on the six o’clock news and in the next day’s newspaper.
Other subjects confront the media spotlight head on.
Last April, Des Moines television crews made the unfortunate mistake of setting their tripods outside the home of Le Grand resident Chad Bryant, who was recently arrested for holding a teen against the youth’s will for several weeks at Bryant’s residence.
Shirtless and tattooed across his nipple and both arms, the 27-year-old Bryant approached a TV crew, whose camera was rolling. “Hey, we’ve had enough of your guys’ media bullshit,” he fumed, directing them down the street.
The intrepid crews stood their ground even after a “visibly upset” Bryant returned to his residence and brandished a shotgun in the doorway. He returned, now respectably dressed in a blue sweater, and dumped a big gulp of water on a cameraman’s head.
“Now if it had only been yesterday, someone could have told him it was National Hug a Newsperson Day, and he wouldn’t have thrown water on them,” my workmate Kathy observed.