When the spotlight shined on Teri Joy’s impulsive anti-panhandling campaign, spurred by her stepson’s heroin addiction, she was taken aback.
After only a few times standing by an Interstate 5 overpass in Hazel Dell and other intersections with a sign that read “Please STOP giving my kids money for heroin!!!!,” the media, including The Columbian, swooped on the story.
“This is a fluke,” she said. “Honestly, who knew? I went home and wrote a sign, and I was on the street three times before the media showed up.”
She went to the corner last summer in distress after eyeing her stepson Steven and his pregnant girlfriend asking for money at the same spot. She hoped for a few waves from drivers, some supportive honks, but really just wanted people to think before they give to those who might use the money to support their addictions.
Joy didn’t expect to have her story spread across the world.
An Aug. 12 article about Joy published on www.columbian.com was the seventh most-read post on the website last year, with nearly 22,000 views. It was also the most-clicked link of 2013 on the Columbian’s Facebook page.
Joy was happy with the spotlight — except for the fact she hates getting her picture taken.
“My kids are proud, my father is proud. They all think I’m standing up for something,” she said. “If I could come up with another gimmick to do it again, I would.”
In the spotlight
For those who are unaccustomed to sudden media attention — and its reverberating effect online — having their stories seen by many thousands has an impact that continues once reporters stop calling and the audience moves on to the next hot topic.
Joy wants the momentum to carry on. Last month, she spoke at a county open house about a proposed panhandling ordinance.
Joy said her stepson is still struggling and has been in and out of trouble with the law because of drugs.
“I will use every single solitary bit of it to get people’s attention,” she said about being in the news. Joy said she’s received hundreds of messages from people sharing stories of addiction. “I hope somebody in Kansas City picks up a sign and joins in.”
The impacts of being thrust in the public eye can be positive, negative — or a little of both, said Brett Oppegaard, a professor at Washington State University Vancouver’s Edward R. Murrow College of Communication.
“When the story ends, you’re on to the next one, but that person isn’t on to their next life,” Oppegaard said.
The former Columbian reporter said, depending on the focus of a story, the people featured in it might benefit from the attention.
“I remember reading stories about people who have had their flags stolen or Christmas trees stolen or house vandalized, and the community will rally around that person,” he said. However, if someone is portrayed in a different light, the fallout might take a different turn. “If you think about some person who has a very negative media story about them, it taints their whole social circle.”
One of the area’s most infamous residents has been Tonya Harding, who is again in the news because of the 20-year anniversary of her ex-husband’s plot to club her figure skating rival Nancy Kerrigan. Harding said in a recent ESPN Films documentary that the overwhelming media attention that followed the attack tormented her.
“You just want to crawl in a closet and say, ‘Go away, leave me alone,” Harding said.
That was two decades ago. Now many stories have the potential for the same global reach as the Harding/Kerrigan scandal.
“If The Columbian publishes a front page story, there will be that number of people who will potentially read it,” Oppegaard said. “In the past, that would have been the end of it. (But now) that particular story can ripple in places it never would have reached before. It can be retold … people can add comments to it and start these whole secondary conversations around it.”
When the phone rings
In the days after his 10-year-old son, Cole, tumbled 150 feet down a slope during a July camping trip on Mount Hood, Kim Hancock and his family were focused on the health of the boy, who suffered fractures to his skull and spine.
So Kim was perturbed when the phone started ringing at the hospital once a press release went out.
“They want information as it’s happening. Specifically for the first couple of days, I had no interest at all,” he said.
Once Cole’s prognosis began to improve, Kim agreed to open up.
“After I met with the media, it really softened my thought process,” he said. “They didn’t ask me any horrible, awful questions.”
Some lines were crossed, he said. A few in the press went to his parents’ house thinking they might catch him there.
“It didn’t make sense to me; I wasn’t trying to hide anything,” he said. “I get it. It’s just hard to deal with when you’re in the spotlight.”
There were also online comments accusing Kim of being a horrible father.
“My brother is telling me, ‘Don’t look at the sites,'” he said.
Once Cole’s story spread “like wildfire” online, people — some the Hancocks knew well, others not so much — began checking in. One stranger sent a letter that read: “I hope that this doesn’t stop you from being all you can and enjoying the outdoors.”
Cole’s recovery continues, and he is on a break from speech therapy until April.
Cole said his friends and teachers have been great, from visiting him in the hospital to giving him get-well gifts.
His dad said Cole was shocked when doctor’s told him around Christmas that he should no longer play sports like soccer or basketball, or any activity where he could hurt his head.
“That was kind of a hit to him; he just figured in six months he’d be able to start playing these things,” Kim said. “The outcome of something hitting him in the head could potentially put him at ground zero.”
But the father and son have begun to find other, less dangerous, activities, such as tennis. The pair played last weekend.
“And I beat him,” Cole said. “Every time. Mostly.”
Unaired video that was given to the family from KATU showing Cole being taken off the mountain and other moments from the rescue became a cherished journal of the events, Kim said.
The Vancouver family recently sat down to watch the clips.
“Dad, I spoke like that? I looked like that?” Cole asked when they watched the video.
‘This isn’t over’
It wasn’t long after Bob Robeck helped pull a woman to safety from a burning car on Oregon’s Interstate 84 that people began using the “h” word.
Whether it’s a quick word on the street or a standing ovation at his bank, being labeled “hero” is flattering, the Yacolt man said, but also embarrassing.
“There are people who have turned the word into something else because they call it to me constantly,” he said.
Because he feared the events that unfolded in June would become clouded over time, Robeck recorded a video on his cell phone as he drove away from the accident scene. He uploaded it on YouTube in November.
“I think about it constantly,” he said.
Though unwilling at first to step forward, he agreed to be interviewed about the rescue of 60-year-old Ketsy Roeder for the same reason he posted his video, to tell the real story. Another man had already been on TV, who Robeck thought was unfairly taking credit when there were others at the scene who did so much more yet weren’t mentioned.
Since the crash, Robeck has received a handful of accolades, including an award from the Oregon State Police and being featured in a Taiwanese animated re-enactment by TomoNews. He said he’s also in the running for the prestigious Carnegie Medal, which honors lifesavers.
“The ultimate truth is, I didn’t want to watch her die because I didn’t want to live with that the rest of my life,” he said.
Robeck called Roeder this month to check in and mention his Carnegie nomination to say, “Hey lady, this isn’t over.”
Attention for good
Just as Joy is trying to ride the wave of attention after waving her sign by the freeway, Heidi Stewart hopes good will come from appearing in the news after suffering sudden cardiac arrest at school.
Stewart was clinically dead for eight minutes when her heart stopped in February at Evergreen High School.
She said she’s still recovering from her traumatic experience, both mentally and physically. In high school she was taking precalculus, but because she lost oxygen to the brain, her ability to retain information was hindered.
“It’s been really difficult being stuck in a lower math now,” she said. “(But) all these challenges are being overcome.”
Many have rallied around her, including Vancouver’s WomenHeart heart disease support group, which invited Stewart and her mom Anne to celebrate the teen’s “re-birthday” in May.
But others weren’t as heartfelt, she said. Some in the high school accused Stewart of being an attention-seeker.
“People couldn’t quite understand why I wanted to come out publicly about it,” she said between classes at Clark College. She’s now a freshman studying communications. “Why I did is because I want to create awareness.”
Stewart is helping promote the Quinn Driscoll Foundation, named for the Wy’east Middle School student who died of cardiac arrest in 2009. The foundation donated the AED that was used to resuscitate Stewart. Next month she’ll speak about her heart condition to an anatomy class at Mountain View High School.
“You never think you will see yourself in the paper the way I did,” she said. “I would have to say it was more positive than negative.”