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I am not a journalist. I used to know a journalist very well. She worked on her high school newspaper. She went to Cal State Long Beach and received a degree in journalism. She interned at several places in college and eventually landed a job at a magazine where she worked her way up the ladder starting at copy editor. Because of her dedication to journalism, I gained a lot of respect for that profession - respect for those that work hard to do it well, do it accurately and do it ethically.
When I started LaughingPlace.com, becoming a journalist was the last thing I had on my mind. Other than interviews, I'm not sure I've really written anything here that I would call journalism. And even interviews are usually put up as verbatim transcripts. Most of my articles are reports on Disney events consisting of pictures, videos and transcripts. Sometimes I'll use an Editor's Report to give my opinion on something. But rarely do I cross the line into something that requires true research, objectivity, fact checking, sources, etc... I leave that to our writers who are more experienced at it than I. But even then, the nice thing about having a Disney website is most of what you're writing about is entertainment - rides, movies, merchandise and the like. Get a fact wrong and it's usually not that big of a deal. That doesn't mean we take things less seriously, but we do know the consequences aren't as serious as with some other subjects.
Which brings us to last Friday - about as bad a day as you can imagine. We first heard about the accident about an hour after it happened from a friend who saw a news report. The day's headlines had literally just gone up on the site. We quickly created a new version of the front page with Breaking News and updated the site again. From that point forward our goal became to keep those outside of the LA area or away from television up to date with what was going on. We flipped from channel to channel and constantly checked various online newspapers looking for the latest. Of course our discussion boards got very active and we felt it our job to make sure the speculation and finger pointing didn't get too out of control too quickly. And to the credit of our readers, it didn't. Most of what appeared was sadness and disbelief - the same feelings felt by Rebekah and I as we tried to keep up.
Friday was a difficult day. From figuring out a way to deal with the site slowdowns whenever we updated the story to working feverishly to get a transcript of the press conference up as soon as possible. The news that the "11 injured" had turned into "1 dead, 10 injured" was devastating. It was the first Disneyland guest death since LaughingPlace.com started. It was sad. It was horrible. It was draining. So what!
Rebekah and I received some thank yous for the work we did and sympathies for what must have been a trying day, and that is more than appreciated. But we know as well as anyone that what we did was nothing. Over the weekend we talked to Cast Members who worked that day in Frontierland. Those who had to keep guests away, keep a smile and do what they could to make sure guests were inconvenienced as little as possible. We heard stories of those who were actually on the scene of the accident. We read stories from guests who were on the ride. We saw the shock in the face of Disney and Disneyland executives. We had the surreal experience of working with the Press and Publicity department during ABC Primetime Preview Weekend knowing what they must've gone through only 48 hours earlier. My sister phoned worried about me because she knows I'm there all the time. I can only imagine what Cast Member families were feeling. I have plenty of Annual Passholder friends who frequent the park and I was concerned even though I know they don't get on too many rides. I can only imagine what friends and families of guests in the park were feeling.
And that doesn't even touch on those who were on the train and who were injured. And saddest of all, the friends and family of Marcelo Torres including his good friend Vicente Gutierrez who was not only injured himself, he sat next to Marcelo Torres on the train. I don't know Mr. Torres or much about him. I do know is he was only six days past his twenty-second birthday and out for a day of fun at Disneyland. I love Disneyland. I promote Disneyland to friends and family. I make my living by going to Disneyland because I can't think of a better way to spend a day. I love Big Thunder Mountain. It's one of those few thrill rides I can ride with my mom and my young nieces. I wouldn't be surprised if it was my first roller coaster as I'm sure it was for many. I can't believe this place I love and this ride I love turned out to be so tragic for Mr. Torres. I can't believe it. Imagine how his family feels.
I hope the investigation into what happened on Friday results in a very complete picture. I hope whomever (if anyone) is negligent pays for that negligence. Is management to blame? Is lax maintenance to blame? Are budget cuts to blame? I have no idea. If they are, I hope the investigators find that to be the case and those at fault pay dearly. Safety should always be first at Disneyland. It is constantly professed to be first internally and externally. If it's not, if something else got in the way of that, those at fault should be made to pay.
I also hope whatever the cause is, negligent or not, it results in safer rides in the future. I hope Big Thunder returns when the time is right. I hope people don't come to Disneyland and instantly think about the accident. I hope the accident doesn't always dominate our discussion boards (though it's completely appropriate that it does right now).
But most of all - what really matters - I hope the Torres family can find some peace. Is there anything more jarring than a day at Disneyland resulting in the loss of a young loved one? I pray the Torres family is able to find peace. And I pray those that survived are able to find peace and don't have to live with the pain and memories of that afternoon swirling through their mind every day. And I pray for the Cast Members and the Disney execs and the emergency workers and everyone else close to this situation. You all deserve our prayers.
I won't be talking to any Cast Members trying to find out what happened on Big Thunder. I won't be phoning any investigators or emergency workers. I won't be asking people in facilities about maintenance histories or pouring over the blueprints at Imagineering. I won't be asking anyone on the train for an interview. I'm not a journalist. Could a journalist have written this piece? I'm not sure, probably not. But I'm just a guy with a website. And right now, I'm glad I'm not a journalist.
This Los Angeles Times article discusses the life of Marcelo Torres and how his family is dealing the tragedy.
Note: It would be very easy for someone to take what's written here as an attack on other Internet writers - Disney and non-Disney alike. It's truly not meant to be that. I don't know what others' training and experience is. And no law says you need to go to school to be a journalist (I didn't go to school to run a website). Ultimately readers will decide what is credible, what is ethical, what is interesting and what is worthwhile.
-- Doobie Moseley
-- Posted September 9, 2003