Parpan Column: 2014 was a year full of tragedy

Members of the U.S. Coast Guard boat into the Mattituck Inlet on the morning Ciro Stellges' body was found in the water. (Credit: Joseph Pinciaro, file)
Members of the U.S. Coast Guard boat into the Mattituck Inlet on the morning Ciro Stellges’ body was found in the water. (Credit: Joseph Pinciaro, file)

There is a common misconception among the public that the media enjoys reporting bad news.

That’s simply not true. I’ve seen a certain look on enough reporters’ faces when they’re asked to call a loved one for an interview after a tragedy to know it’s never easy.

I saw that look too many times in 2014. 

A look at the top 10 stories of 2014, as published in this week’s issues of The Suffolk Times and the Riverhead News-Review, reveals much sadness and loss. Eight of the stories concern specific tragic events, including a couple that cover a range of sad tales. Others, such as the arrest of Southold court clerk Christine Stulsky, have tragic elements.

It feels funny to say the death of Shoreham-Wading River football player Thomas Cutinella was the News-Review’s biggest story of the year, but in terms of its emotional impact on readers and how widely read the story was, it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t.

When I first moved from my post as the editor of our former newspaper in Brookhaven to a role that oversaw Web operations in Riverhead and Southold, I was warned by many that there wasn’t much news to cover on the North Fork.

I wanted to restructure the newsroom in a way that better positioned us to cover the news of the day — rather than just a weekly approach — but was often told that not enough happens each day. Now, several years into that restructuring, we can barely keep up with all the news that unfolds some days.

This year, perhaps more than any other in the past decade in Southold, the news of the day was often heartbreaking.

The spread that features all of this year’s Suffolk Times front pages shows that 10 cover stories dealt with death. One of the first was the story of Jack Pollack, who died March 5 in a Greenport house fire. He was one of two North Fork residents killed in fires in 2014. Some of our other cover story subjects drowned or were killed in plane and car crashes this year.

Things weren’t much better in Riverhead, where a skydiver was killed, several houses burned to the ground and a series of attacks were reported downtown. One article that moved me as much as any other in 2014 was the story of Jean Tabor, who disappeared while walking her dog. Authorities and volunteers searched for her over the course of a weekend. After two days, her body was found in the woods near her house — her dog safe and still at her side.

Of course, there were still plenty of happy stories to tell this year, even some that rose from tragedy. I couldn’t help but feel good seeing the Dec. 4 cover of the News-Review featuring the SWR football team after it won the Long Island championship in the aftermath of Cutinella’s death. And even the July 24 Suffolk Times story about Helen Chalmers, whose body was found in her Orient home several days after she died, revealed the happy news that she had donated her life savings to a host of local organizations. I’d be remiss not to mention the outpouring of love and support the Mattituck community showed the Doorhy family following the tragic death of their daughter Kaitlyn in August.

These stories demonstrate how triumph can sometimes come from tragedy. Here’s hoping 2015 is a year of the former.

Grant Parpan is the executive editor of Times Review Media Group. He can be reached at [email protected] or 631-354-8046.