Much like the rest of the city, I was shocked to hear of an explosion at a local high school yesterday morning. I followed the news, trying to find out more information. I was hoping to hear good news, but there soon came sad news of a fatality. I waited and watched, hoping that the reports were wrong. When all media reports were consistent and had gone uncontested, it looked like it was true. I believed it, and expressed my sorrow on twitter.
I had a horrible feeling, a lump in my chest, and felt ill. Not because I thought I might know anyone involved, but for what the parents and extended families of the students who attend the school must be feeling. I was especially sad for that family, the one who would soon hear news that you can never prepare for. My children don’t go to school yet, but for me, it is one of those places where you can still believe that children are safe. They might get bumps and bruises, or learn interesting words or pick up bad habits, but they are safe. To hear that a life was lost in a classroom, doing school work, was shocking to me. Even if I am on the outside looking in.
Then two things happened in short succession. There were updates that said the student had been resuscitated, and there was one reporter on scene at the school who had identified the student by name. I was cautiously happy to hear that there was a chance for the individual who had been harmed, but I was really bothered by the fact that the student had been named. We now know that he did pass away and while that is tragic, that isn’t what this post is about. I know that identification is only ever supposed to be made officially after a death has been confirmed by an MD, identity has been confirmed, and notification is made to family. There is no way that these could have occurred in the short time that had elapsed. The reporter herself actually sited the source of the identification as students at the high school. The same students who had just been traumatized by the explosion and seeing their classmates harmed. This identification was sufficient for the reporter and she published the name.
I sent her a message and suggested that she might want to remove the identity information from her posts. I suggested that this might be a good idea to protect the victim’s privacy, but there are so many more reasons to not divulge this information. First and foremost are the family members, who in all likelihood would not have been officially notified of their child’s injuries. They deserve to be told respectfully and appropriately of what has happened to their child, not to hear unofficially through the reports of classmates. As a parent, hearing such horrific news from the media would compound the trauma. There is also the possibility that the identity was made in error, and the student named was not in fact the victim in the explosion. Finally, there may have been an ongoing police investigation into the cause and origin of the explosion. Victim identities are often held back in these cases.
She never responded to me, nor did she remove the information. My sister also messaged the reporter, and did get a response. One where responsibility was deflected, and she focussed on the fact that the paramedics had claimed that the student had passed away. The reporter completely missed the point.
I don’t get why it is so important to be the first to report the name of a victim. To get the “scoop” as it were. Does putting a name to this person make his death any more traumatic or shocking? Does the potential pain to his family make it ok? If there is a police investigation ongoing, does the scoop outweigh the risk of jeopardizing it? What if the students were wrong, and the person they named was not the victim? There are valid reasons why names are withheld pending proper identification and notification. I just wish that members of the media would respect them.
For most of us, his name really didn’t matter. His family and loved ones deserved to hear about his death from someone who could actually confirm it, who know what had happened and could answer their questions, and who was experienced and trained to make that notification compassionately and appropriately.