On Reporting Death

Being a journalist is a thankless job. It often seems like the only type of feedback reporters get are strongly-worded messages saying how terrible they are, or how biased the story is. But rarely do we hear a simple “thank you” for getting them the news they wanted to hear, for organizing and breaking down the facts so they don’t have to. So as you can imagine if being a journalist in the “real world” is this hard, being a student reporter is not for the faint-hearted. If you want to be taken seriously in the “real world” you have to start somewhere and take yourself seriously as a professional.

This past weekend, a student from my university passed away off campus Saturday morning. Out of respect for the student and everyone involved, I’ll leave names and locations out. I hope you can follow my extensive use of pronouns.  The story only made its way back to campus early Saturday evening.  A fellow editor (and a friend of mine) at our university’s newspaper was on call that afternoon and late into the night reporting the story. After calling local police, hospitals, and anyone with relevant information, she had an exhausting and an emotionally scarring night.

The amount of negativity and disrespect she and the entire staff, were shown this weekend was absolutely sickening.

I understand how difficult it is to lose someone, whether its a friend, a family member, or a significant other. Most people do. The last person anyone wants to talk to during this time is the press, especially student reporters, who over the phone must seem like badgering kids during a time of mourning.  No one wants to make that phone call to a mother, a father, or a sibling, asking for comment on the deceased. It’s hard to talk about, we know.

But this is our job. To report the facts and only the facts to the public. This is what we’re taught as we learn the craft of journalism. And this is us putting it into practice. This story affected our entire campus. We lost a member of our community. As student journalists, we reported the story to inform the campus about a figure we have lost. While other local news outlets speculated a slew of possible causes of death before the autopsy was even completed, we did not. We do not wish to convey any ideas to the public until we can 100 percent validate them as true. More so, we do not wish to tarnish the image of a student who took pride in being apart of our community. Until we have the official results of the autopsy, all we can report is that we lost a student from our university early Saturday morning.

So when we ask the public via social media for information, we do so for factual purposes. We do so that the people do have a say it what we publish. You don’t have to give us anything. You have that right to keep quiet. But you don’t get to criticize us when you haven’t experienced the difficulties in reporting a death. Posting a Facebook comment or tweeting complaints about how much you hate the media doesn’t do anything. If you want change, take apart in it and make the change. But admonishing a writer and attacking their character is just immature.

I know it’s hard to remember from behind a computer screen but journalists are people too.

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