Seydi Burciaga is a young woman who died last week in the floods that ravaged Atlanta. Out of the 10 people who died, how is it exactly that I know Burciaga? I know of her because I had the displeasure of hearing her 911 call right before she drowned. How did I hear it? I heard it on the television tabloid news show Inside Edition when I was channel surfing. I suspect that it's all over the Web; however, I'm not into hearing people take their last breath, so I haven't checked.
The point is that this tape was allowed to air. You know what they didn't say about Seydi Burciaga? They did not say that she had just finished her overnight shift at Sam's Club, where she worked for the past 10 years. She was trying to get home in the pouring rain in her minivan and turned into her cul-de-sac in suburban Atlanta.
Seydi Burciaga was three-tenths of a mile from home, her husband and two young children, when she drowned.
Now, guess what those two young children get to hear? The sound of their mother, who was completely terrified and panicked by the way, before she takes her last breath, compliments of the media that has run amuck.
I cannot believe the lack of news judgment exhibited by Inside Edition and other media outlets that followed. Even the Atlanta Journal Constitution, a newspaper that I read every day, ran the transcript of Seydi's 911 call to the operator, with the following disclaimer: "Editor's note: Because of the sensitive nature of the call, AJC.com has decided not to post the audio of Seydi Burciaga's conversation with 911. What follows is the complete transcript, obtained from Gwinnett County 911. You can also read our story about the call."
My question is, if it is that damned sensitive, why post it at all? Really -- does hearing someone facing death add any value to anyone's day? If it does, please get some help. Just exactly how does the sound of a tormented mother qualify as news? I am completely disgusted that this woman's final moments would be exploited for financial gain, and that no one at any of these "media" outlets spoke up or out against running this story. Was there no one whose conscience called?
Therein lies the problem with media today. The line between what qualifies as news and sensationalism has completely blurred. The use of Seydi Burciaga's final moments to generate ratings and thus advertising dollars is unconscionable. We have thousands of people in Iraq and Afghanistan dying to protect our freedom and this is what we do with it? Is this what they're dying for -- the freedom to allow us to exercise poor judgment and bad taste in the name of "quality" programming?
I hope that one of the show's producers is around to tell that to Burciaga's two children. "Sorry. We didn't mean to make a bad situation worse by making it so that you and others can hear your mother right before she dies." That sounds crazy. You know why? Because it is crazy ... which leads me back to my initial point: "Just how do I remember Seydi Burciaga?"
Because her voice haunts me. Yes, I should have turned the channel -- after all, it was Inside Edition. But because I came in on the middle of the audio clip, I just knew that it would be a rescue story. "Young woman facing death but saved at the last minute by rescue workers" -- "a glimmer of hope in the devastating flood." That wasn't the story, and they had the bad manners to end the audio clip with a narrator saying, "she drowned."
Thanks for the trauma. This story falls in line with other extreme lapses in news judgment. Playing the audio clips of people trapped in the World Trade Center during the 9/11 attacks was heartless. I don't think it helped anyone to hear the terror of his or her loved one's voice before he or she jumped from a burning building. Who can forget the aerial image of the late Ennis Cosby, Bill Cosby's son, lying dead by the side of the road with a pool of blood around his head? Thanks CNN!
Some things just don't need to be seen or heard, particularly when they in no way, shape or form add value to a news story. When called on the carpet about these matters, the media is quick to say that they're giving the viewers what they want. Is this really what we want? If so, our society is in a lot of trouble.
Some would argue that this is a matter of taste. I believe it is also a matter of respect and boundaries that should not be crossed -- because real people are involved. What is a news story to some, is the wife, daughter, mother, friend and colleague to someone else. "She was a very loving mother, a good wife, a strong woman," Pedro Burciaga, her husband of 14 years, said according to a report on AOL.com. "She liked helping everyone, and overall she worked very hard. She always had a smile for everyone."
Since news producers neglected to think about her, perhaps they will think about him when deciding if and how to cover a news story in the future.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. is managing editor of TheLoop21.com. She is an assistant professor of Communication and Media Studies at Goucher College and writes the blog Tune N (http://nsengaburton.wordpress.com), which examines popular culture through the lens of race, class, gender and sexuality.