The media is frequently on the receiving end of a lot of criticism. Journalists are often pegged as heartless opportunists who care only about getting the story with little regard about who they have to step on to get it.
For the most part I would say this is an exaggeration, but every once in a while I look at the conduct of my peers and I have to shake my head.
There was a tragedy near Golden this week. A very experienced ski guide lost his life in an avalanche. Humanity has a fascination with these kinds of stories, so it’s no surprise that the national media picked up on the story right away. People want to read about it.
But this is the moment when the professionals in the news media have to find the balance between people’s right to privacy and everyone else’s desire to know.
On Thursday March 12, two days after the incident, the coroner’s service still had not officially released the name. The morning after the incident the ski guide company and the RCMP released limited details of the incident, specifically stating that the name would not be released until notification of next of kin.
Well by Thursday morning, even Wednesday evening, almost every media outlet said they had confirmed the identity of the skier, although it wasn’t made clear exactly how.
Although I have a lot of respect for these professional peers of mine, I have to say I am quite disappointed in their decisions. The obsession to be the first to know, the first to get the scoop, has possibly come at the cost of this family’s piece of mind. There has been absolutely no confirmation that the family has been notified yet, as this man is not local. It is quite possible that they found out online when they read a story on one of the national media outlets.
There was no illegal activity, no foul play in the incident near Sorcerer Lodge. Therefore there is no reason to suspect that the RCMP or coroner’s office would withhold the identity of the victim longer than they have to. So why do the sleuthing ourselves and jump to conclusions? What would be so terrible about waiting for this piece of information until the authorities are comfortable releasing it?
No one wants to be the last to know in this industry, it makes us look like we’re not doing our jobs. But if we all followed a few ethical guidelines a little more closely, then we’d all receive confirmation at the same time. No one would be the last to know, and no family member would have to learn of this tragedy from a website.