Ad Nauseam

June 10, 2011 

Much like sports and politics, journalism is a field in which everybody seems to be an expert. Snarky comments online from "This is news?" to more derisive digs at the Herald are as daily as our publication. Those jabs and the occasional "helpful" individual who thinks I want a posed snapshot while covering an event are mildly annoying. What really bothers me is how, with so many apparent experts out there, so many people seem to be unable to distinguish news from advertising.

Reporter John Trumbo and I went out to meet a couple of guys who were rebuilding a Cessna that had a belly landing, and though chilly receptions are common while on assignment, this particular greeting had an added insult. One guy was pretty friendly, shaking our hands when we introduced ourselves, but his gruff partner immediately started saying he wanted nothing to do with us. It was a surprise for me, since the photo request form John wrote concludes with, "Their love of aircraft has inspired them to scour the country for needed parts. It's a story about putting wings back into flight."

Sounds like a nice little story, right? One of those feel-good features that people forget about when they complain that we only focus on the negative.

His reaction, though, was as if we had pounced on them Chris Hansen-style, eager to ruin their lives with an exposé into the seedy underbelly of general aviation and aircraft repair. After John gave a pointed reply about how we could at least be civil with each other even if he didn't want to be a part of the story, he shook our hands and offered that we could do the story as long as there was no mention of the belly landing.

"We just don't want any negative advertising about flying right now," he explained.

A rush of heat flooded my face as I resisted the urge to sass him back with a prideful journalistic rant about how I don't work in the advertising department. But this wasn't my story to blow up, so I let John handle it. He reasoned that a story about fixing a plane makes no sense without any mention of why the plane needed fixing and we abandoned the story after a tour of the nicer guy's hangers full of big boy toys.

A couple hours later, I joined reporter Kristi Pihl for a flying lesson with Alex Archer at Sundance Aviation in Richland. The first-person story ties in with Learn to Fly month. Alex was affable during the lesson, making sure to reinforce how easy and safe flying can be without becoming the overbearing salesman character that so often shows up while working on stories like these.

It was strange to be on assignment and almost exclusively photographing the reporter I was working with since I usually only sneak a couple shots of my coworkers in between shooting the actual story:

I even got a shot of myself making my stupid picture-taking face while trying to figure out the best angle to use my Canon Powershot G9 on a monopod to get photos of Kristi in the cockpit:

The extra bonus was getting to snap a few aerials, with Alex leading us from Jump Off Joe to the Energy Northwest power plant:

The biggest bonus was not losing the lunch I had eaten between the two assignments. I have the constitution of a newborn, so I get airsick pretty easily — especially while shooting photos from that high. But despite the momentary greenness while up in the air, I found my earlier encounter to be much more nauseating.

What's funny to me is that both aviation aficionados had the same goal in mind — get some positive publicity about their love and livelihood. They just went about it very differently. I wouldn't be surprised if that brusque treatment kills the other story altogether, which is too bad because that plane looked pretty cool, even unfinished, and it would have raised a little profile for their new business. What really gets me is that the sticking point was for acknowledging the existence of imperfect landings. And while I certainly can't blame anybody for being careful around us professional nosy people, I think it's a pretty cynical view of our readers' intelligence to think that this story would have blown the lid off the best kept secret in flying.

Planes crash sometimes.

Grumpiness aside, though, his borderless view of the relationship between the journalism we publish and the advertising that supports it was the real irritation. While Sundance Aviation owners' motives weren't a secret, they played their hand well by being friendly, offering a unique experience and not trying to exert editorial control over how we presented the story to our readers. I don't expect everybody to actually be an expert, but it seems to me that this shouldn't be a difficult concept to grasp.

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