Another side of the job

Leaving my sister’s house Friday night I happened upon a terrible accident along Interstate 74 just about two miles or so from Harrison. Two people died, another was sent to the hospital.

And I stopped to take a photo that appeared in today’s Cincinnati Enquirer.

I didn’t even think much about it when I pulled up to the sheriff’s cruiser on the highway, identified myself as press and crossed over to the other side of the closed highway. I’ve done that many times. I called the Enquirer’s Metro desk to let them know I was there, got my camera, a few lenses and headed closer to the scene.

A deputy along the way asked me to identify myself, pointed to the accident scene and said,”One dead in that car, one dead in that other car and the one behind it went to the hospital.”

I thanked him for the head’s up – which meant I wouldn’t need to be there too long waiting for an investigator to talk to me. He then told me I could go wherever I wanted around the scene – something not very typical of most accident scenes. So I did, walked within about 20 feet of the car with a dead person in it and started taking photos. I didn’t think twice.

It didn’t really hit me until later when I mentioned it to a few people. Probably shouldn’t have, but there was the, “So, did you get caught in the traffic on the highway after Shelly’s party?” question. I answered honestly and then watched the horrified look on the people’s faces as I told them what I did and saw (but not in too graphic detail). To me, though, it was just another day on the job – and a few extra bucks in the wallet. Sort of.

Journalism – as does police work or being a doctor or an attorney or a mortician or a coroner – exposes those who work in it to all sorts of bad stuff. Luckily this journalist doesn’t have to see that kind of stuff too often. I remember more experienced reporters telling me I’d remember the first dead body I’d see on the job. I do. Very well.

But since then the shock wears off. We joke about what we see, I think, to take the edge off of what we’ve seen. Officers and firefighters at scenes stand around – often just feet from the accident – and laugh and joke and carry on. It seems so surreal to think about it later on.

People wonder why journalists cover this kind of stuff. What service does it provide to show fires and accidents and murder in our newspapers or on our televisions. Interestingly enough that question is answered every time I find myself at one of these tragedies. Just like in the past, people who found out I was there wanted to know what happened, when it happened and how bad it was.

Author: Joe Wessels

Joe Wessels is a freelance journalist and photographer. Wessels covers local news events for Thomson Reuters news service and features for About.com's Cincinnati Guide site, plus is the executive director of hyperlocal news site, iRhine.com. He wrote for The Cincinnati Post, covering Cincinnati City Hall and Hamilton County government and wrote a weekly political column, which continued weekly at Cincinnati CityBeat. Previously, he was a reporter for the Cincinnati Business Courier and writes or has written for several publications in Cincinnati and around the country including The Cincinnati Enquirer, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Cincinnati Magazine, Cincy Magazine and the Sacramento News & Review. He is a native of Colerain Township, one of Cincinnati's western suburbs, and now lives in Over-the-Rhine near downtown Cincinnati. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and a journalism writing certificate from the University of Cincinnati. He also graduated from Colerain High School, is an avid photographer, news junkie and was once a roller rink disc jockey, and sometimes rides a scooter around town.

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