“We need to do a pickup. You go.”
The worst assignment in a newsroom, pickup is code for going to the home of someone who has just lost a loved one, and asking for a picture of the person who died. A gut-wrenching mission for any journalist, especially if it’s a child, or the victim of a crime. Imagine opening your door expecting a friend, or a neighbour with a casserole, and finding a reporter instead. It takes such gall to ring the doorbell that some journalists just can’t muster the nerve.
Reporters are widely regarded as ghouls
Yet, it has always been remarkable to me – and I’ve done my share of pickups – that families for the most part are understanding, and often graceful, about the need of newspapers and broadcasters for pictures. People often like the idea of a tribute to their loved one, just as they frequently will talk at length about the person’s life. Reporters are widely regarded as ghouls for intruding at these times, but the small circle of people who have actually been through it – as a family, or as a journalist – experience it differently.
The journalist burst into tears when the door was opened and the young mom ended up consoling her instead
I have a newsroom friend who formed a lasting bond with a mother whose baby had just been killed in a car accident. My friend burst into tears when the door was opened and the young mom ended up consoling her instead. They became close. There are many cases of reporters who’ve been thanked long after the fact for handling circumstances with sensitivity and respect.
The intrusive need to go in person has lifted in the years since families have been able to send jpegs to newsrooms online. But pickups are still a duty for hundreds of reporters every day. No one I know who has ever done a pickup has emerged from the experience unchanged.
Image credit: Alexa LaSpisa on Flickr