Monday, January 9, 2012

For Jan. 12 discussion: "The true meaning of the vow 'in sickness and in health'"

The Lifestyle section of last week's Washington Post featured a moving story about the relationship between former Post journalist Robert Melton and his wife Page, and the ways in which their relationship changed following Melton's traumatic brain injury.

I don't want to give away a lot of the details in this post, because the writer of the piece (Susan Baer) uses a lot of foreshadowing and suspense to move the story along. Rather than telling you what it is about, I will share with you how I came to find it, and how I responded as I read it. This description is intentionally vague ... I don't want to spoil the story for those of you who read it.

I came to read this story after seeing it several times on Twitter. As a former journalist who has a wife and children, I could relate to Robert Melton. I read the first 10 paragraphs and was interested in what, at the moment, seemed like a contradiction - Page's departure from the house seemed to be at odds with her dedication to her husband.

I kept reading, becoming more emotionally invested. Then, on the last page, the questions I had were answered. The answer was not the one I expected, and it troubled me (especially given the fact that I had continued to identify myself with Robert). At a point, I was so troubled that I kind of wanted to stop reading. However, the end of the story was near and I was, to use a poker player's term, "pot committed."

So read the story, and consider these questions. How did the reporter want us to feel at the end? What do you see in the story that makes you feel that way? Was everyone in this story treated fairly? If not, who was unfairly treated, and what might have been done to address it? Why is this story newsworthy? What else strikes you?

Also, if you are interested, the Post conducted a live web chat with Page Melton and Susan Baer. You can read the transcript here.


  1. Even though this story was really long, it kept my interest the whole time. It definitely appealed to the uniqueness that can make a story newsworthy, even though the Melton family did not directly affect me. I thought the author did a really good job of telling the story like a chapter in a novel that made the reader want to commit to the story and keep reading. Baer does a great job of balancing a background on Robert to Page's struggles and the eventual merging of the families in a way that made it so the story was never too dull.

    I thought the photo gallery at the top of the article was especially effective because it gave a real emotional element to a story that was all about emotion. The visual device gave the reader a chance to compare and contrast Page's husbands and you could really see how much older Robert looked and how tough this life must have been on Page. I thought the best picture that captured the article was the last one of Page, Robert and Allan because it summarized how they become a totally non-traditional family yet they all took care of each other, even Robert.

    This was definitely an intense article to read but it didn't seem brooding in any way and could definitely appeal to a lot of different audiences. It was also an article that could easily have a follow-up story and people would have a real interest in it, since the original is so captivating.

  2. I don't believe I have ever read anything quite like this story before. At the end of the story I felt as if I had just been reading a novel and I had to remind myself that these were real people and this did in fact happen. The writer did a great job of portraying the story to the readers, but I would have liked to hear more of it in the words of Page. A few more direct quotes would have made it a better read in my opinion.

    I do agree with Annie in that the photo gallery was a great touch to the story. It really helped me connect to the story, seeing the faces to go with the story I read.

    The story was lengthy but it needed the space to tell the entire story. It was compelling enough to keep readers wanting more to the end.

    I've yet to find a definition for newsworthy that I find fitting, but I would consider this newsworthy just for the human interest fact. Something like a blood clot can happen to anyone.

  3. This story was well worth the length. I feel as if I just went through an emotional roller coaster. The writer does and excellent job of portraying the feelings of each character; I feel as if I now know the Melton’s.

    The story begins lightly and continually falls into place piece by piece. The images were vividly explained. I could follow the story easily and wanted to keep reading. It grabbed my attention immediately.

    Although I enjoyed it and the story was very well written, I believe it was a story, not a news article. If someone gave me this to read without telling me where it originated from, I would have never guessed a newspaper. I don’t think this is a bad thing though. It was a nice change from the usual news. The article being about two regular people and their family makes it relatable.

    The tone of the story was depressing but it transformed to a lighter mood in the end. The explanations of the couple’s first gift to each other and Robert’s personality before the accident puts the reader in a sad state of mind. Once Allan steps into the picture, it adds some happiness but your heart still goes out to Robert.

    The story was framed nicely and gave a good representation of the life Page has to now live along with the rest of the family. I enjoyed the story and felt it was a great article to read.

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  5. Let me start off by saying I cried hysterically the entire last page of this story. I'll explain why later.

    To answer your first question, I think Baer wanted everyone to feel compassion toward Page and Allan, to show that it's okay they fell in love because they are still keeping Robert in their lives.

    I think it was very risky writing a story about this to such great detail. If you think about it the audience of these story is probably females from the ages of 18 and up. The entire time I was reading this article, I thought I was reading a love story, which I was. But when people read love stories, they want the love between the two main characters to work out. If the love doesn't work out they hate the characters that didn't make it work or who ruined the love. I know for me, when I found out Allan and Page were going to get married, that is when I started to cry because I felt like she betrayed Robert.

    This is news worthy because it brings awareness to the severity of heart attacks and all that comes with it and I think they writer should have stuck with that rout and maybe not put all the back story in to it.

    Looking at it as a "news" story, everyone was treated fairly and it was a very well written article. But I stand by what I said about it being too personal. When people read personal stories, they invest their heart and mind into reading it. They become a part of the story and they hope for a happy ending.

  6. This must have been a very difficult story to write; the reporter did a fantastic job with it. I too found myself identifying with the story, partly because I used to live in Maryland and Virginia (my power was taken out by Isabelle also) and partly because my family has been affected deeply by Alzheimer’s disease. I know how hard it is to watch the mind of a loved one slip away.

    It is, of course, hard to determine how fair the story is without additional accounts, but I can’t really find anything wrong with it. I don’t think it even needs to be entirely newsworthy because it contains such a strong human element. If it’s not a news story it is at the very least a tribute to a former reporter, printed in the paper he dedicated his life to.

    I think the piece was written in celebration, marking the peace his family has found in spite of tragedy. This seems to be one of the rare instances when the story is more important than individual accounts.

  7. This article was very long, but it captured my attention immediately, and I could feel for Page. The descrption of the dark-oak farmhouse table was vivid, because I could imagine all of the pictures and vases being on the table, as if it was filled with life. I especially liked the phrase, "the fragile pieces of their life together that have to be tucked into cardboard boxes." That was definitely heartwrenching.

    This story was very sad, and did almost make me cry. However, I enjoyed reading it. If you are a person who has gone through difficulties or hardships like a heart attack, then this story is relatable. The author definitely wanted us to feel for Page. It's sad that Robert had to write down the information most important to him.

    This story is newsworthy, but reminded me more of a narrative than an actual "news" story. It was extremely personal and wasn't a report of a particular event with stone cold facts.

  8. This was a very long article, but at the same time it never lost my attention. There were many descriptive moments in the story and I could picture everything that was happening. The picture gallery at the top did help out with this. It allowed me to emotionally connect with all of the characters.

    Maybe it is because I have a soft spot for the romantic story, but I thought that this article was very well done. I'm not sure if it has any other newsworthy pull other than uniqueness and human interest, but I enjoyed it. Sometimes you just need that emotional, heartwarming story to break up all of the hard hitting stuff.

    The reporter really wanted us to feel emotionally connected to each of the characters. I think that she did this very well. Naturally, we all feel sympathetic for Robert and the things that he has been put through. In a typical story, Page and Allan would be the bad guys. However, I really liked how the reporter made them the heartwarming heroes. Their compassion and love for each other, as well as Robert, is what made this story unique.

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  11. Sara, I too cried multiple times while reading the last page!

    When I reached the fifth paragraph, I was hooked. I could not stop reading on. The reporter hinted every now and then that something unexpected was going to happen. She mentioned that Page had a conversation with Robert that she never thought she would have. Then, she immediately went on to talk about their life stories for a few pages. I kept reading because I wanted to know the conversation the reporter was referring to.

    At the end of the article, it seems like the reporter wanted the reader to feel like a part of the family. She added details about each person—as if she was writing a novel.

    To an outsider, it would seem as if Robert was not treated as fairly as the others were—as if Page and Allan were being selfish. However, Baer’s article does a great job showing the reader why this is the decision they made. This story is newsworthy because it has something special in it…something that could inspire someone else’s life…something that someone else could relate to.

    What strikes me the most is that I forgot I was reading an article. I felt more like I was reading a story. The length probably had a lot to do with that. But the details of the people were so intense that it seemed as if it could be fiction. Baer had to have spent days with this family—learning their stories and everything about them. By mentioning that “He [Robert] was a colleague of and became a close friend of my husband’s,” the reporter made herself a more “qualified” teller of their story to the reader.

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  13. I thoroughly enjoyed this story. The author did a great job of conveying emotion through text.I believe he was trying to convey sympathy for the trio of Robert, Page, and Allen.
    The story was captivating from start to finish and the author did a fine job of combining quotes and context behind every scenario.I particularly enjoyed the segment when Robert was being described before the heart attack as an intimidating figure. Immediately after they spoke about that they launched into a description of Robert after the accident as naive and childlike; it provided an excellent contrast.
    I believe this story is in fact newsworthy because it appeals to our emotions, it is a human interest story.

  14. The end was bittersweet--as the Page and, in turn, Robert, both said themselves. Because really, everything ends out okay. Even Robert, the victim not only of a terrible tragedy, is not really aware. He's not aware that his wife has found someone else, nor why she has done this. And yet, he's happy.

    This story would've taken an entirely different turn had Page abandoned Robert--sent him off to some assisted living home, never seeing him again. In a way, that actually surprised me. I couldn't get over how genuinely good everyone in the story acted. Page, attempting to rebuild her life with Robert still at the center; Allan, falling in love with Page and not trying to kick Robert away--but, instead, embracing him.

    It was very well written, easy to read, and enjoyable. I wanted to keep going. It had the sort of arc of a short story. Because, even if it's not hard hitting news, it's impact is still there--an appeal to everyone's sense of what love is, what it means, and how we learn to deal with it, especially in the aftermath of something tragic.

  15. The reporter definitely did a great job of allowing the reader to connect with the family and feel the emotion, pain, and love that Page felt during this struggle with Robert. I think the writing is what really makes the story newsworthy because the reporter did an impeccable job to make the story relatable and entertaining to any audience.

    I don't think anyone was treated unfairly. This is such an inspirational story for anyone who may be faced with a similar tragedy in their life. This was a spectacular article and well worth the long read.

  16. I liked that the writer showed everyone's perspective in the story. Page could have very easily been shown as selfish and cruel but the coverage of family and friends from everyone's side kept the article fair.

    Along with that, the ending of the article was very optimistic and respected the family as a whole. Despite the awkward circumstances,the writer let the family's voice be heard.

    The article was a great human interest piece but I think it would be better suited for a magazine. It's not breaking news and is a bit long for an internet article. Also, like some have already said, it reads more like a narrative with the lengthy descriptions that set up the story.

  17. This story definitely brought a whirlwind of emotion to the table, which is obviously something triumphant when writing an article such as this one. The heart-breaking tragedy that forced the Melton family into a delicate living situation was gently given to the reader to make it seem as if a friend was breaking the news. I honestly thought I was going to have to grab the tissues before the Melton family began to beam with promise for a better life. After all the hospital visits, rehabilitation, and emotional pain brought on by Robert's traumatic heart attack, I saw no positive outlook to this article. I'm glad I kept reading because the compassion I felt while escalating to the end was a beautiful turn around.

    The beginning few pages of the article seemed to be necessary in order to bring the right amount of sympathy from the audience. Tacking into emotions to help relate to difficult health situations with families was easy to do since the audience received a fair dosage of different perspectives throughout the story. It wasn't one sided and although quite long, the emotional roller coaster being sought for was undeniably found, especially wrapped up in the end.

    Page's loyalty and dedication to Robert and their daughters was incredible because in the long-run, she battled through obstacles that no wife or mother should have to go through. A family is started by love and a promise to take care of one another through thick and thin. The Melton family represented that spot on and they grew to a whole new level of resect and admiration in my eyes because they kept moving forward and found love and peace again in their new lifestyle.

    I couldn't comprehend the fact that Page was uprooting Robert to be with Allan, it seemed too much like an MTV attempt at teenage drama. That's why it struck me with impressive belief that people are capable of opening their hearts for love not specified in the rules. Allan showed heartfelt genuine emotion the whole story by caring for a family that was in pain and not even his own. Joining families was a beautiful ending because it gave me hope for unconditional love found among people in the world. The reporter wants her readers to have hope about this...about people in the world capable of more than just the unnecessary evils repeatedly portrayed in the media. It helps the readers feel more willing to find an imperfect fairytale ending such as this one which is why this story is especially newsworthy. Readers need something to look forward to in the midst of war and economic crisis and this does the job in an exceptionally bitter sweet way.