When a truck slammed into a Baskin-Robbins store in Aurora, Colorado recently, killing two women in the vehicle and a three-year-old boy in the store, that was news.
In seeking to add further color to the story, the newspaper assigned the journalist to create real time posts via Twitter about the child’s funeral. The posts were listed, in all their ghastly detail, on Eric Krangel’s blog.
Like Eric and many others, I find this use of Twitter appalling. The touchstones reporters use when covering the news include: Is this important? Does the public have a need to know? Does the public have the right to know? All these questions are subject to one overriding rule: Is this in accordance with common decency?
Now, decency is something which is in a state of flux; the MTV videos of today would have been considered soft-core porn ten years ago. And four-letter words pepper today’s speech to an extent previously considered unthinkable. Still, in this case, one could argue that the bounds of common decency were clearly breached.
There was no respect for the dead. And just what did the public need to know about the ghastly twits — of people sobbing, pallbearers carrying out the coffin, the burial, and the chanting of the prayer? How did those twits add to our sum total of knowledge or inform, amuse or enlighten us?
In his response to criticism of the coverage, Rocky Mountain News editor, publisher and president John Temple said that critics did not differentiate between the idea itself and the execution. “Why not connect with them in real time, as long as we’re not disruptive at the funeral, which we weren’t and wouldn’t be?” he asked. Because, John, that’s intruding upon their grief, and the twits made a public spectacle out of a private affair.
John throws in the argument that he is the father of three children, and has covered many tragedies. Indeed. Assuming these points are at all relevant, which they are not, he should have known better.