WABC made me cry today.

That’s not something a hardened journalist is supposed to do. I’ve watched a lot of terrible things (mass shootings, murders, kidnappings) from the safe confines of a newsroom. But this week’s news that two parents “systematically tortured” and killed their 3-year-old for not eating his breakfast, has my head spinning.

I’m lucky enough to have welcomed three little boys into this world — Jackson, 5, Alex, 3 and Matty, 1. I love being a dad. That’s why I find this week’s lead news story so horrifying. The death of Scotty McMillan was among the most engaging hard-news stories in social this week. Perhaps it’s because many people — like me — find it hard to understand how a parent could do such a thing.

Whatever the case, the story struck a nerve among audiences across the nation, and brought at least one journalists to tears. It was the most engaging news post in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Dallas on Thursday.

Interestingly, many journalists posted about how they reacted to the news, and those posts landed among the most engaging posts as well. WPVI’s Adam Joseph, who we wrote about last week,
wrote: “Seeing the unconditional love and innocence a child embraces should never be punished, never mind to such severe levels, especially by his own family.” The post generated more than 11,000 engagements, and kindled a deep conversation with fans, who left more than 3,000 comments.

Peter Franco, from Trenton, commented: “Omg it’s hard to type through tears, what can you say? Just pray for the soul of that poor baby.”

ABC6 anchor Brian Taff said, “The stories we cover day in and day out often move us in unpredictable ways. This one has left me struggling. … When I get home tonight, and every day hereafter, I’m going to make sure my boys know what real parenthood looks like. Its a hug, and the confident embrace that tells them that, in my arms, they are safe.” The post generated more than 10,000 engagements, including more than 1,700 comments.

The success of these posts highlights one of the greatest features of Facebook — the ability for journalists and broadcasters to connect with their audience in new and powerful ways. And it’s something I’d like to see more of from journalists. Trust in mass media is at an all-time low. And it’s connections like these will help journalists fight that image. It’s important that audiences understand that journalists are people, much like them. People and professionals who sometimes struggle with the topics they cover. Professionals who also have to find a way to provide unbiased news. But when a story hits home like this, honesty earns credibility and respect.

The station post that generated the most engagement was this one from WABC’s post generated the most engagement among station posts. The post was crafted beautifully, leveraging a the powerful quotes Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan, “Little Scotty McMillan is dead. Over a three day period … he was systematically tortured and beaten to death,” the post begins.

Sometimes it’s best to step back and allow the story to tell itself. WABC did just that. WABC’s post generated almost 80,000 engagements.

And many tears.

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