Billy Rule uses an effective literary tool to engage readers, the second person. He directly address the audience, ensuring a feeling of intimacy and inclusiveness with the text. This is a powerful way to get under the reader’s skin, generating empathy with the protagonists, passion for the issues and produces an experience of the central figures’ emotions.
Rule uses ‘heart’ figuratively and literally as a recurrent motif, unifying descriptors and encouraging readers to seek the next reference. The piece begins inviting readers to recall trauma, reminding of time they’d felt ‘a claw of fear gripping your heart’. He teases with, ‘Something you didn’t expect and barbed wire wraps around your heart’, an allusion to oncoming pain encouraging the reader to continue to the end of the piece.
Rule places the narrative at the chronological start, Debra Chittleborough’s introduced, and her ‘heart was going just fine’. The statement builds impending doom.
Figuratively, heart is inferred to as the story’s pacing, resembles a pulse. It calmly introduces the protagonist and then creates a rapid panic, continuing, punchy, vigorous, short sentences, staccato phrasing and concise small words. (ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom)
The literal heart motif continues, ‘Debra’s heart seized’ on discovering her daughter’s drowning. When she attempts to reach the hospital, ‘heart pounding with fear’, obstacles block her path. Seeing her daughter initially, there ‘was a small heartbeat, but it was just from the drugs’, giving hope for life, before ultimate loss.
Final paragraphs see motif repeated; lasting effects of losing Kaitlin are experienced as a ‘cyclone ripping me apart inside, so when you’ve had your heart ripped out, people can’t see your pain.’
The power of Rule’s piece is the reader’s emotional reaction, empathising with the situations and protagonists. The loss of a child is almost too torturous to imagine. Rule eloquently describes Debra’s grief, frustration and anger. Readers yearn for her justice. Anyone who cares for children experiences a world we hope never to enter.
People I trust have cared for my three children on many occasions. I’ve taken Debra’s risk, assuming others as attentive, responsible and safety conscious.
The frank, earnest, open way Debra’s actions are portrayed captures grief and mourning, challenging readers to question maternal sanity. Unusual coping strategies include taking her dead child home, dressing her, brushing her hair, singing and reading to her in bed, and extended cuddles to say goodbye. The post funeral mention of the psychiatric emergency team, Debra’s friends wanting to take her away and concern at potential self-harm, invite readers to question grief becoming mental illness.
The media’s role in the push for change is highlighted. Pool fencing regulations are understood, but until Debra Chittleborough made her Crusade for Kaitlin, supervision was expected, not legislated for.
The media is a valuable tool for providing cautionary tales, evident as Rule recreates a mother’s experience, so others won’t have to live it.
In New York, Debra spoke to Today Show’s, Al Roker, showing a photograph of Kaitlin, reminding America, they ‘have to look after their kids.’
The W.A. coroner concluded Kaitlin’s inquest, stating “the woman…was not watching Kaitlin and her own daughter…and there were no apparent suspicious circumstances.” These comments were widely reported, reminding Australian parents of the need for supervision.
Despite divorce, together the parents sued the friend who hadn’t prevented Kaitlin’s death. The court case enabled Debra to speak to the press, “People have got to be made accountable so they think before they walk away and leave young children in a pool.” Hopefully Debra’s crusade ensures others won’t repeat the error, which cost Kaitlin’s life.
The trouble with rubbery figures
Concise and factually driven, the piece is broadly researched to expose statistical inaccuracies in a cautionary tale for aspiring writers. Lawson illustrates why readers should be critical about what they believe. He observes journalists use of figures, beginning as a first person, open and honest admission of, ‘one of the silliest mistakes I have made as a reporter…’ because of misuse and poor comprehension of relevant numbers. ‘…I managed to mess up the metric units.’ Inadequately research a story means potentially misunderstanding or omitting details, misrepresenting the data’s worth. ‘Numbers can trip us up, especially when we are dealing with unfamiliar subjects…’ Lawson concedes his error.
Presented numerical muddling from journalists and researchers includes:
- the 1996 Sydney Morning Herald’s front page on anorexia death rates
- the British medical journal The Lancet observation of Iraqi deaths from the American invasion,
- and the Australian Council of Social Services’ claims on domestic abuse.
The MEAA code of ethics ensures journalists ‘scrutinize power, but also exercise it and should be accountable. Accountability engenders trust.’ Correcting false numbers and retractions is compulsory if an error is discovered. Writers work to the MEAA Code of Ethics. Under section 12, ‘do your utmost to achieve fair correction of errors.’
The source for any figures quoted needs to be carefully examined for objectivity, filters involving subject matter, examples of what’s not omitted and reliability. Lawson reminds, ‘any journalist told by [a source] should question the definition.’ Analysis should include how the information was accessed, whether it can be independently verified, motivation behind using high or low figures, if the data adds up with similar or related statistical values and numerical context. Some figures are ‘given to illustrate the depth of the activist’s feeling rather than to reflect reality.’
Figures can be skewed during research, especially if advocates or protestors provide data relevant to their cause. ‘The central questions are whether the reporter has separated fact from opinion and whether sufficient information has been provided for readers to make up their own minds.’ (Conley & Lamble 2006, p 402) Extensive investigation is required to ensure claims are reasonable, present reality and adhere to MEAA Code of Ethics 4., ‘do not allow personal interest, or any belief, commitment, payment, gift or benefit to undermine accuracy, fairness or independence.’
Historical data used by journalists requires perspective so figures are presented fairly. Lawson illustrates this point, suggesting battle statistics need to be observed as parts of entire of conflict, rather than being witnessed in isolation. Contextual representation ensures accurate and relevant journalism.
Veteran journalist and Pulitzer Prize awarded writer, Michael Gartner sums up the need to be impartial, “if you have an agenda, you should not be in the newspaper business…if you want to change the world, become a teacher or a politician, or a sociologist or a Mom, don’t become a reporter.”
Lawson displays contempt for editors, revealing perceived demands for, ‘something dramatic and colourful for the front page…’, showing he feels pressure to add statistics. Figures need proper fact checking and adequately definition for relevance and appropriate context.