When a teenager was struck by a train in Oshawa a couple of weeks ago, later dying in hospital, police did not release the victim’s name as per the family’s request. However, the local news outlet learned the identity of the 16-year-old via social media, confirmed it and published it.
The family declined a request to comment on their son’s death, and durhamregion.com was criticized in its comments section and on social media for its decision to identify the victim.
Managing editor Mike Johnston defended the decision, made by senior editors in a column more than a week later:
Many in the community already knew the name so we decided to include it. Our readers who don't use Twitter or Facebook would have questioned who the victim was. We ran a compassionate story giving our readers a snapshot of who [the victim] was and then stepped back and let our readers take over.
Social media columnist Reka Szekely used her space that week to also back the decision (which she says she was not a part of), saying that “creeping” on social media is a “reality of modern news coverage:”
When information such as a victim's name is shared via social media, it's not shared between a closed network of friends or family members. It gets blasted out to the public where it can get re-tweeted and shared at an exponential rate.
The problem is that the public doesn't have equal access to social media news. If you're friends with certain people, you'll get the news before others.
What do you think? When a family says no, how should a news organization approach its coverage? Should they respect their wishes, or strive to provide a public snapshot of a life?
A tip of the hat to Poynter, who originally brought this case to my attention.