I don’t want to do this. I’ve been willing myself to get out of the car for half an hour now, but the thought of what might happen next makes me feel sick. They’re home, the car is in the driveway.
Deep breaths. I grab my notepad and start making my way up the long driveway, past the neat garden to the front door…
I hate death knocks. I reckon most journalists do. It has to be the very worst part of the job. There is nothing enjoyable about knocking on someone’s front door looking for a story, knowing a family is being tortured by grief on the other side. It is bloody awful. Even if you do get the story, you always feel lousy afterwards. When emotions are so raw – even if they are strangers – it’s hard not to take a piece of their pain away with you.
I’ve probably done a few dozen death knocks during my TV career and there will probably be many more. This summer just gone has been particularly busy: beach drownings, shark attacks, holiday road smashes, domestic disputes turned deadly.
That’s a lot of doors to knock on. It doesn’t get easier; every family, every tragedy is different. And so are the responses to an interview request.
I’ve been physically threatened. Screamed at. Spat on. I’ve had doors slammed in my face, been pelted with beer bottles and rotten food. Our crew car’s been damaged. But you just have to wear it. Grief does strange things to people. If I’d had a loved one torn away from me, I’m not sure how I would react to a reporter knocking on my door.
Vultures! Heartless hacks! I can see you mouthing the words now. We journalists should be ashamed of ourselves! Well I’m not. It’s my job. And a big part of it is helping people tell their story. It frustrates me when people accuse journos of preying on grieving families for “ratings”. If anything, raw heartbreak can be a turn off for viewers. It’s too confronting, too uncomfortable to watch. I’m embarrassed to admit reporters sometimes overstep the line: harassing families, breaking into homes, stealing photographs of dead loved ones. That’s disgusting behaviour. Most of us just knock, politely ask the question and if the answer is no, leave.