Thursday, June 09, 2005

Reporting on grief

The SJ-R devoted a lot of coverage to the Chelsey Shores story. Today’s editorial page featured an editorial, a Chris Britt cartoon, an op-ed piece by a classmate of Shores, and several letters all commenting on the tragic event.

Paul Povse also wrote about the story. He mentioned that he had heard reaction from some people who felt that the media should let the story be. This raises an interesting point that I wish he or someone else at the paper would explore more fully. That is, when an event such as this - that is so private, personal and painful - is thrust into the public eye, how are editorial decisions made in relation to pursuing the story further.

  • Does the public’s right to know trump the family’s right to privacy?
  • In keeping with the tenets of public journalism, does the paper take up the cause of shedding light on the serious consequences of teen depression and excessive ridicule even if it does intrude on those directly involved in the story, possibly causing them additional grief?
  • If the subject in this case had been a poor student with a known history of mental problems and a criminal record, would the initial story have commanded space on the front page and the subsequent coverage that followed?

I agree with Povse that the media has a responsibility to pursue this story. And I’m sure that those reporting and commenting are sensitive to the feelings of those personally involved. But since the media, in cases such as this, are often seen as vultures, concerned only with snatching up a compelling storyline, quote or sound bite, it would be interesting to hear how decisions were made and what considerations were given in pursuing the Shores story.


Dan M. said...

This is a sad story in that an obviously bright individual who had the potential to contribute to society in a positive manner chose to end her life. That is why it is such big news. You are correct that not many would care if it was a "criminal type" who took the same way out, and rightfully so.

I am sad because of the lost potential. It angers me when an "east-side" thug gets shot four times and lives to deal dope again, while a three year old with cancer doesn't make it.

What I find maddening in this sad event is the letter writers and the average man on the street who blame the fact that she was "picked on" at school. There are people who are picked on all the time who don't commit suicide. (On a side-note, her being "picked on" is debatable to some degree as it was reported that she could adequately defend herself against her detractors.) Her being "picked on" was probably one out of 100 reasons why she chose to do what she did. Yet, it is easier for John Q. Public to simplify it all by putting an evil face on this tragedy.

Lets not beat this to death to find the "cause" because no one will ever really know. Lets just remember it for what we know it is, a tragic waste.

always off topic said...

In an interesting contrast to the J-R, I don't believe Channel 20 has referred to the Shores tragedy at all. Does WICS -- or, maybe more likely, Sinclair Broadcasting -- have a policy against reporting suicides?

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

"Does WICS -- or, maybe more likely, Sinclair Broadcasting -- have a policy against reporting suicides"

I don't catch the local news on TV as often as I should so I can't say if they covered the Shores story or not. I would be surprised if they didn't.

That said, I don't see suicide as a partisan issue. There are plenty of legitimate criticisms that can be levied against Sinclair and how they choose to deliver the news. And Mark Hyman is such a stereotypical, liberals-worst-nightmare conservative he almost seems like a straw man created by Aaron Sorkin so that the Barlett administration has a target for their rapid-fire dialogue. But to accuse them of ignoring the story as a matter of policy is just a bit paranoid.