Johnny was a Good Man: Taking Death Personal

Death is old news. Yet, it has a way of trending with a morbid freshness each time it is reported. Death will never be balancedly reported. We may get eyewitness’ reports, or even doctors’ report, but never a victim’s report of how they died.

In keeping up with its mystery, this has been a necessary tool in the hand of death. Is it okay then to say journalism has failed in properly documenting the activities of the Grim Reaper? I personally think so. Not because it fails in getting a balanced report of death, especially from victims, but because it usually impersonal, especially when victims are just ordinary people.

What do I mean?

A musical experience brought me into this line of thinking just about a year ago when it was reported that students of the Federal University, Oye-Ekiti were killed in a face off with the convoy of the wife of Ekiti state governor. Beyond identifying them as students, nothing was said about those victims. Just about that time, I listened to Bob Marley’s timeless track, Johnny Was. In it, Marley recounts the reactions of a woman whose son was shot dead on the street. It was a personal account of a painful loss. It got me thinking how those with personal ties with those students must have felt.

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The chorus is a powerful echo of what the boy, Johnny meant to his mother: “Johnny was a good man.” What did those students mean to people who knew them?
This little experience of mine was just an eye opener to what is indeed a pattern of reportage. Nobody cares to report what the death of people means to those it really meant something to. Take for example, dozens of people killed on a regular basis by terrorists and insurgents. Beyond seeing their deaths as evidence of our failing security system, is there really anything to their deaths? Yes, there always is. To the mothers, wives, husbands, children of those people, it goes beyond the breaking of news.

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What would change if people’s death were reported with more personal touch?

I can’t give any definite answer. But I can speculate. Getting a feel of people’s grief could serve as a reminder to us all how really vulnerable we are. This also give us a sense much it would mean to a lot of people if senseless deaths were avoided.
I don’t expect anything to change though. That would be a tall order in a society that’s fast becoming a commune of people more interested in the fate of their neighbors than they’d be in the fate of a stray dog. But there’s no doubt how much we would be able to achieve if we start caring about each other’s personal pains and seeing it as our own. One for all, and all for one as the saying goes.

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