Cleveland, Ohio, was the center of the universe last week. Media organizations from around the world descended upon northeast Ohio to tell the miraculous story of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight to their own private constituencies. Even Anderson Cooper made the trek, broadcasting for CNN live on Tuesday night. Crews representing Australia, France, Japan and Korea lugged their equipment and scrounged for soundbites alongside reporters from Toledo, Columbus and Chicago.
Taylor Dungjen, a crime reporter from the Toledo Blade was dispatched to Cleveland from Tuesday to Thursday.
"I was still laying in bed when my city editor called me at 7:30 Tuesday morning," she said. "At first they wanted me to do a color piece with quotes from anyone I could run into. They were obviously very interested in Charles Ramsey. I was supposed to just be there for a day."
There was so much material that Dungjen found herself camping out, writing multiple web briefs and a hard news story to go along with her color piece. She said that it was by far the most national and international attention she'd ever seen given to a story that she's covered personally.
"I remember sitting next to a woman from Japan, and I had to take a picture of her microphone, just so I could prove that she was there."
Dungjen suspected that this story struck a chord with such a widespread national audience in part because it came on the heels of the tragedy in Boston.
"There's so much bad news that gets reported all the time, and this was something really sort of miraculous."
Dungjen admitted, though, that the frenzied media climate was at times ethically troubling.
"For one thing, because everyone's trying to get news out as soon as possible, you don't have enough opportunity to vet your sources before it goes public," she said.
But even the personal insecurity wasn't as discomfiting as when Dungjen saw reporters swarm Amanda Berry's sister as she emerged from Berry's house to make a statement.
"That was the last straw," Dungjen said. "It was like a ravenous pack. People were screaming 'shame on you' to the media, and I thought, 'this makes me feel really dirty."
Rachel Dissell, who's been covering the story doggedly for the Plain Dealer said that as a local reporter, she felt like a subject of the news.
"Most of [the parachute media] called our reporters for interviews as much as they interviewed people involved in the case. But it is their job and they will go home and we will continue with our coverage in the most meaningful way we can."
Dissell's personal take was that the police may have provided too many harrowing details -- "officially and unofficially"
-- to news outlets. "We tried really hard to balance how we covered the details with not doing too much additional harm to the victims. I can only hope they stayed away from the news completely," she said.
Mark Naymik wrote in his column this week that the three women are now, in effect, imprisoned by the media. They've hired a lawyer and begged for privacy as they recover.
"The story of what happened inside Ariel Castro's Seymour Avenue home during a decade of captivity is compelling. Period." Naymik wrote. "The public is understandably fascinated by how these women survived. The media shouldn't be criticized for wanting to tell that story. But at the moment, telling the story involves boundaries, and one dictates that some news outlets refocus their coverage for now."
Aaron Lewis, a filmmaker in New York City who works for a documentary company in Australia said that stories like these are especially rare because they capture the imaginations of both sides of the political spectrum.
"Even two weeks from now, people will begin to break off and read the analysis according to their politics," he said, "but right now, everyone's reading the same stuff. That's breaking news."
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