Murder is never a fun story to report.
Sure, as a journalist you may be privy to information before the public. And sure, there’s a race to release information before other organizations. But a murder story is never fun, and it’s difficult, as the editor, to determine what information should be released and when.
In full disclosure, I love a good mystery. This job is perfect for me because I deal with mysteries often, and when I’m not writing about the fascinating world of the criminally-minded, I’m reading about it (I’m working my way through Capote’s In Cold Blood right now). Who doesn’t love a good mystery, though?
The reason bad news often leads is because humans are, by nature, curious creatures. We want to know the details, all of them, no matter what we say to the contrary. We want to know how the victim died, we want to know why the victim died, we want to know what was going on in the killer’s mind, we want to know what else was going on when the victim breathed for the last time.
And it’s natural to want to share these things with others, to do our best to piece together the clues, to answer these questions.
But we have to be careful what we share. That goes for the public and for the media.
Sharing too much or sharing the wrong information could have many implications, such as identifying a victim before the family is notified by officials or revealing a key piece of evidence that allows a suspect to walk free.
Social media is still a relatively new way of sharing information, when you compare it to traditional media, and the rules are still being written and rewritten. When events like murders and car accidents and house fires happen, please be mindful of what you’re sharing online because you never know who’s reading it or who it will get back to (no matter your privacy settings).
As The Leader’s news editor, it is my decision what we share in print and online. I do my best to weigh the options, to determine how what we’re sharing will affect the eventual court case and how the family will feel about the different media (photos, stories, graphics). It is my intention to run a compassion first newsroom, meaning the editorial staff will do its best to err on the side of caution.
Sometimes we get it wrong – we’re only human – but we’ll do our best to make up for it, to right our wrongs.
This week, and with his father’s permission, we shared a photo of the nephew of murdered Drummonds mother Shannon Gardner holding a framed photo of Gardner and two of her three children. I’d intended to blur the faces of the children, but forgot to do it. And I was called out for it.
(Dear caller, I didn’t get your name, but thank you for speaking up. It was an oversight on my part and I corrected it as soon as we hung up. Please accept my apologies.)
These children have already been through a lot, and they’ll deal with this for the rest of their lives. We need be vigilant about protecting them as best we can. In this case, “we” means the media, the public, the rest of the family.
Murder’s never a fun story, it’s horribly tragic and heartbreaking, but it can become even worse for the victim’s family when compassion and caution are not exercised.
Do you part to help – not hurt – these children and think before you share.