Our View: Our side of reporting on student deaths
On Friday afternoon, most of us were between meetings or doing homework in the newsroom when we received notification of a student’s death on campus.
We sent a reporter and a photographer to Centennial Court C. As we gathered and verified information, we put it on KentWired — along with a photograph of the student being taken to the ambulance.
Some of our KentWired commenters were outraged, while some defended our decision. Criticism over the use of the photograph continues to grow as more than 11,000 viewers have clicked on the story. We don’t remove comments unless they’re offensive, racist or flagrant, and we don’t respond through comments, either, so we, as the Daily Kent Stater editorial board, are addressing it through this editorial.
There’s an incredible sensitivity surrounding death. It’s not something to be taken lightly. We published the facts, but we are waiting to release the name until we know more about who she was.
Some were unhappy with our decision to post the information before family members were notified, but unfortunately we have no way of knowing. As information becomes available, it is our responsibility to print it in order to prevent rumors from spreading.
We continuously updated KentWired as more phone calls were returned, and although we put up a mere 200 words, the controversy tended to focus with regard to the photograph.
Sometimes, words are not enough, and considering the five of us are all going into the writing field, it makes us cringe. Regardless of how many paragraphs we can spend describing a scene or an event, the reader’s eyes are immediately drawn to a photograph.
Let’s use this as an example: In 2005, the Akron Beacon Journal published a series about Becky Slabaugh, victim of domestic violence, whose husband threw acid on her face. The paper documented her recovery, detailed her horrific injuries and followed her from hospital room to hospital room. When they published a graphic photo on the front page of her skin grafts held together by staples, readers called it “disturbing,” “grotesque” and “repulsive.” But the photograph showed readers the devastating and lasting effects of domestic violence, and it was jarring.
Camera lenses can go where words on a page cannot, and we don’t consider it “rubbernecking.” Humans have a natural curiosity, and sometimes you can’t believe in something until you see it.
We made a choice as journalists, who have studied ethics inside the classroom and out, to serve our audience. This wasn’t a sensational publicity stunt, and the decision to publish the photograph wasn’t made on a whim. We wanted to convey the emotion a story like this requires and deserves.
Our hearts go out to those who were affected by the student’s death, and we keep her family and friends in mind as they grieve, but we stand by our decision.
The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.