Sunday, January 22, 2012

Story involving deaths, without full IDs

A reader complains about a 01-22-12 story reporting a town of Poughkeepsie fire in which three Marist College students died, but not identifying the deceased.

court wrote on Jan 21, 2012 10:57 PM:
" I find it so irresponsible to say two females perished in a fire, gave the address and the school they attended but didn't release their names, for the sake of the families. SHAME ON YOU! "

It's a valid point to raise. But consider the alternatives available to media outlets. 
A fatal fire has occurred early Saturday morning. By late Saturday, the deceased still hadn't been identified by authorities. Likely the existence of a fire was reported by some outlets even as units responded.  In any event, news of the fire had to have spread throughout the region and the Marist College campus. Word of mouth on fatalities spreads quickly, if inaccurately. 
Under these circumstances, anything short of as precise an identification as possible would only exacerbate the issue of stress for families. That is, report only that there was a fire with fatalities somewhere in the town of Poughkeepsie and everyone in the region with connections to people in Poughkeepsie are put on edge. Report there was a fire with fatalities on Fairview Avenue, but not that they were students or the exact location, and everyone with loved ones on Fairview Avenue is panicked.
I view this as a case in which everyone involved was trying to do their jobs as responsibly as possible. Tracking down the parents of college students is a tough job for authorities and they withheld identifications out of their concern. News outlets reported the known details of the tragedy as best they could, even as word of the event doubtless was spreading widely by word of mouth, but perhaps without grounding in facts.
It's a no-win situation for all involved.


Blogger Cherie M. said...

Tony, I agree with your feelings on this. Could you imagine reading in a newspaper (or hearing on a news brief on the radio, etc.) that a close loved one - particularly a child/sister/brother, etc. - had been killed in fire only to receive a call later from that child/sister/brother, etc.? Or - on the other hand, could you imagine finding out the terrible truth of a death of a child/sister/brother, etc. via the media and not privately from an official? In this sue-happy nation that we live in, I would suppose that would open quite the lawsuit.

January 22, 2012 at 4:57 AM 
Blogger Tony Adamis said...

The problem, of course, is how do you incompletely report something that has to be reported. Imagine a situation in which twenty people die in a bus accident on the Thruway at the Kingston exit -- are you going to wait until authorities say everyone has been notified? You can't. The entire area would want to know what's known as soon as possible exactly because it could involve loved ones, friends, co-workers, neighbors, acquaintances. I think of this sort of thing every time there's a story from Afghanistan reporting a US helicopter has been downed. Tough for everyone who has a loved one exposed and hasn't heard from them.

January 22, 2012 at 6:42 AM 
Blogger Renee said...

I believe that Tony does only what he can do when having to think of the immediate family. As you said Cherie you wouldn't want to hear of a loss on the radio on internet. I believe the only people that need to know of a fatality is the immediate family and then the family will dispense the news to other family & friends. What ever happened to privacy to the family. I think people are too nosy and want to hear everyone's business wether or not it involves them. Their comes a time in an unfortunate accident, fire or any other situation as that information needs to be withheld. The world today just needs to mind their own business and just pray for the families that get that knock on the door from officials. Would it make a big difference if they publish the names and you don't even know them, no. I'm sure if it were a close friend or family member the family would contact you.I feel Tony's job as an editor can be tough but he does it with a thought process

January 22, 2012 at 4:24 PM 

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