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Why do we report the bad news?

July 6, 2014
By Kevin Sweeney - Journal Editor , The Journal

There comes a time for every community newspaper when bad news happens. Not just bad news, as in property taxes are going up, but real human tragedy that is close, that is personal, that is anguishing.

When we report it, inevitably someone asks why we had to do that? Don't we know there are people suffering, who don't need to see that in the newspaper? Don't we care that we are causing them pain? How would we feel if our family was suffering like that?

That situation arose last week. The week earlier, we had reported that the Brown County Attorney's office had filed criminal charges in a pair of fatal accidents that happened earlier in the year.

On Monday, one of the young men who had been charged shot himself in a portable restroom in Riverside?Park. He died later in the day at North Memorial Hospital in Robbinsdale.

We reported that it had happened. Let me tell you why.

The answer is, it was news. That is the business we are in, the service we provide to our readers, to report the news, good and bad.

Our policy on reporting suicides is restrictive. We don't usually report when someone commits suicide, unless the act was committed in a public place, or the person who committed suicide is a person of note, someone who is in the news for some reason.

The reason we don't report most suicides is that years ago, a counselor told me that suicides, especially among young people, tend to run in strings. One person's suicide could influence someone else who was leaning that way to do the same. We decided to err on the side of not publicizing private suicides, in hopes of preventing others.

But public acts are different. Most of the time, people know before we do. We feel we owe it to our readers to provide the facts.

It isn't easy for us. To answer other questions, yes, we know that other people are hurting because of this act. Yes, we can surmise that the friends and families would rather not have that information publicized. We have to weigh that concern against our responsibility as a news organization, and when the need to report outweighs the privacy concerns of the family, it is a hard decision, one that is not lightly made.

We do not wish to add to the grief of family and friends in these situations. When we do, we are sorry for that pain.

As to how I would feel if I were in that situation? I honestly don't know. It's hard to imagine something like that if you haven't experienced it. As someone who is in the news business, I expect I would understand why it was reported, and if the situation were painful enough, I suppose I wouldn't care.

To the family and friends of Liam Kelly, I am sorry if our reporting added to your pain. Your tragedy affects us all.

 
 

 

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