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When The Staged Seems Too Real
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The calendar says May!

There was a general feeling of disbelief about that when we had our staff meeting to get prepared for this week’s papers – obviously we talk about the date of the next issue and as a team, we were pretty much flabbergasted that it is already May.

Graduations will soon be upon us, followed by Memorial Day, then summer vacation and the Fourth of July. It all goes by too fast.

My mind as I write this is just a tangle of thoughts, each one wanting to be touched on.

Escalon recently had its Every 15 Minutes program, as prom and graduation season looms and though the outline for each production is the same, the players are different and there always seems to be a new twist. The program, which focuses on the dangers of drinking and driving, is hosted every other year. Oakdale does it as well; theirs will be in 2019. Riverbank has had the program in the past, so all three of our communities have participated in this multi-agency effort.

This year, as I approached the mock crash scene and observed the body of the ‘dead at the scene’ victim in the roadway, my first thought was: She still has her flip flops on.

Strange, I know. But if she had truly been ejected from a vehicle during a crash she wouldn’t still have them on. The force of the accident would have caused her to lose at least one of those flip flops. I mentioned that to some responders (this was while the scene was being set up, prior to classmates arriving to view the program) and they agreed about the flip flops but said she was wearing them when they did some earlier filming so she had to keep them on.

Of all the things to think of … ironic I would focus on the flip flops when there was plenty of other carnage (albeit staged) strewn all around me.

In a nutshell, though, it explains how we, as news people, can get through those uncomfortable assignments, covering those major accidents or devastating fires. It’s much like the first responders; you focus on the job at hand. Granted, for the police, fire and emergency personnel it is about saving lives and property. For me, it is chronicling their efforts at the scene. So that’s what I focus on; what they are doing, how they are helping. It’s almost like tunnel vision; you don’t see the scene for what it is, you see only a small part.

It’s when you get back to the newsroom and download the photos and spend some time looking at them that you get a true sense of what you just witnessed. And even though Every 15 Minutes is staged, that doesn’t make it any easier to look at the photos.

In the program, the videographers record the accident scene and emergency response, then continue with the aftermath, following the victims to the hospital and, in one case, the morgue. They capture the parents as they arrive on the scene as well. The mom who was at the morgue with her husband to identify their daughter was overwhelmed with emotion – it was raw and, in that instance, it seemed all too real.

The first responders do a brief panel discussion with the involved students afterward as everyone works to process it. The kids are also kept separated from parents, family and friends until the following day, after the conclusion of the program. It lends an air of authenticity to it; all contact is cut off.

As more than one speaker noted during the assembly, these kids are our future. But we can’t wrap them in a cocoon and keep them safe. We can, however, offer advice and suggestions and hope that they take the message of Every 15 Minutes to heart and watch out for each other.

We want to cover graduation with all our graduates there.


Marg Jackson is editor of The Escalon Times, The Oakdale Leader and The Riverbank News. She may be reached at or by calling 847-3021.