Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Covering a tragedy

We do lots of things at The Star that I love -- covering elections, sports, big weather stories, conducting investigations.

Covering tragedies is not on the list.

Covering tragedies involving people close to me or my friends or family is definitely not on the list.

Yet, it's part of the job, so we have worked hard over the weekend to cover the Chitty plane crash thoroughly yet sensitively.

I thought you'd be interested in a walkthrough of how it happened.

I was first called at home sometime in the mid-afternoon by our reporter on duty Sunday, Cherish Wilson.

She told me about the crash (normally, a small plane crash in Charlotte would merit only passing coverage in The Star), then dropped the bombshell -- she had received a tip that Jim Chitty and his wife were on board.

When my wife was an attorney doing title work, she crossed paths with Jim, so she knew where he fit into to the family trees of Shelby. That gave me some folks whom I could call that I knew very well -- this was important to me because I don't like to "spring" the news on unsuspecting family members unless they know who I am.

Anyway, while the folks I called couldn't give me immediate confirmation, after some calling around they basically said: "We're hearing what you're hearing."

Initially, the only discussion was of two people on the flight.

Soon, we received confirmation that the plane was indeed registered to Chitty.

It wasn't until late in the afternoon that we started hearing that there were possibly four passengers on board.

We contacted the funeral home which put us in touch with a relative in Wilmington who also confirmed that he was told by Charlotte police that four people perished.

Final confirmation of this fact didn't come from the NTSB until about 11 p.m.

In the meantime, we had lots of conversations with folks who had second- or third-hand knowledge of possible conversations between Chitty and the Charlotte control tower. As of yet, we have not been able to confirm those well enough to put them into print. Suffice to say, the consensus of these accounts is that there was some indication of trouble, but we'll have to wait for the preliminary report, which should come out next week.

We also chose our pictures for the paper judiciously. Some images published by other outlets showed personal effects and even clothes up in trees. We felt like those were not appropriate and added nothing to the story. I was also alarmed at some of the insensitive language used to describe the scene by at least one Charlotte TV outlet.

Anyway, if you have any questions or concerns about our coverage, please let me know through this blog or by e-mail to skipfoster@shelbystar.com

In the meantime, my thoughts and prayers go out to the Chitty family. We have a place on the orange bar at shelbystar.com for you to leave a message to them.


Amelia Townsend said...

Can't get to my e-mail account right now but I wanted you to know how terrible this tragedy is felt even here in Washington, D.C. Chitty always took time to help me get "background" on real estate stories in the city of Shelby. He made introductions and opened doors so that I received warm welcomes.

When John Derrick and I flew over Shelby for our stories on the airport's growth needs and finances, Jim Chitty flew the plane.

John and I took turns flying with Jim and he graciously kept circling the city and the airport until we were satisfied that we had enough pictures.

So gracious. So very gracious.
When I remarked that we appreciated the intrusion on his time, Chitty replied, "The sky's my heaven."

I can still see the smile on his face.

Amelia Townsend
former Shelby Star Reporter

Skip Foster said...

Amelia -- I had forgotten that! Thanks so much for sharing that story. Hope you are doing well.

Pizazz said...


You have done well with the coverage and shown a sensitivity reminiscent of the "old" days in which the news was reported.

Thank you for caring for the Chitty and Young families.

Paige said...

I don't know if the "insensitivity" you mentioned by a Charlotte news outfit is the same one I saw, but I was horrified by WBTV's "clean-up specialists" video segment. They mentioned, in quite graphic detail, the unpleasant work these specialists do - while on-site of the Chitty crash!

I'm thankful for the care & concern these workers show, and yes, someone has to come in & do those things, but there's a good reason we don't hear about it. Were I Haley Chitty & I heard that segment last night - OH MY WORD! I was not a close friend of the family, but I was nearly in tears.

Thanks to the Star for being so very respectful of the Chitty family, all those who loved them, and even those of us just on the fringes in the community.