Recognizing people with our policies

Our writers and editors strive constantly to make sure that the people at the center of the news events we report are indeed recognized as people — not just names or faceless statistics. In cases of tragedy and great personal sorrow, the pursuit of that goal can require some delicate balancing.

Some of our coverage in the aftermath of the Aurora killings is a case in point.

Reporters are often gratified to find how willing family members are to talk about someone they have lost, even while the ache of that loss is still burning and fresh. There can be a sense of relief for some family members in such conversations, and perhaps more important to them, they often want to make sure that people know their loved one was something more than a victim of crime or disaster, a person who loved art or travel, a man who went to extraordinary lengths to show love for his family, a woman whose talents were recognized and appreciated by the people who knew her, a child who held great promise or knew the meaning of struggle.

But because they were people, and because their families and friends are people, too, other considerations also come into play. In cases like these —  and of course, the Aurora murders are an example — the victims are accidental public figures. Their names and faces were forced to the front pages by events outside their control. Their friends and families, themselves victims too of a sort, are swept by circumstance into the public eye.

They can be resources for helping the public understand better the nature of trauma or the human impact of criminal acts. They can help us understand grief. They can help us understand why other people should care enough about their ordeal to act in some way. But all of these considerations must be balanced against other intimately human concerns.

They should not be articles of curiosity.

Grief is a raw and personal emotion. Its expression deserves deep respect.

For that reason, the Daily Herald abides by policies intended to honor the privacy of people thrust by tragedy into the public spotlight. One of these involves coverage of funeral services. While certain rare cases are of such public interest that we have to make exceptions, our practice in general is to determine whether families are willing to allow our reporters or photographers to attend. If they are opposed, we respect their wish.

That is the case with a young victim of the Aurora shooting whose life was celebrated in services Wednesday in his hometown. Because of the prominence of the crime that took his life, many news agencies were interested in covering his funeral. When we learned his family didn’t want us there, we decided, as we have done in many other cases, to step back.

We have still done much to portray the man’s life and the lives of all the people killed Friday in their human dimensions. We’re sure that words and events at his funeral could add depth and nuance to his story. But we’re also sure that at a difficult time, his family has a right and a need to determine how much of their grief they can share and how much of him they are willing to share with the public.

They, after all, deserve recognition as people, too.

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