And it complicates the duty of turning tragedy into news, which might on its face seem crass or manipulative, especially to those still afflicted by the wounds that come from losing a friend, brother, sister, son or daughter.
But I’ve found telling the stories of the dead and bereaved to be among the most important things a journalist can do for a community that is frightened or grieving.
This academic year, the student body has been presented with the disturbing task of mourning four of its own. Grief has touched much of the student body, including the staff of this newspaper.
In the case of each death, I was able to stay removed as I first sought to recover every detail and provide an honest portrayal of each person in the form of an obituary.
But the emotional weight has come nonetheless. It came for me on Sunday, writing the caption for a photo of Stedman. And it came the day David’s death was reported, when I returned home from the paper to find my house packed full of his friends who were staying there with his brother Stephen.
The grief surrounding these deaths has also spread to those with no prior connection at all. I’ve watched writers become deeply affected by the stories of individuals they didn’t know. I’ve witnessed the profound frustration of our city editor, who has been devoted to the pursuit of answers in the senseless — and still unsolved — killing of junior Faith Hedgepeth.
But does the product — countless stories and headlines about investigations, complete with disturbing details — capitalize on a base fascination with the morbid?
I don’t think so.
I believe the devotion to covering these tragedies is carried out in the hopes that answers will help calm souls — that the outpouring of love from friends of senior Trevor Dolan will help sustain the memory of him, or that a photo of Stephen Shannon embracing a friend of his late brother’s would remind those close to David of the love they knew in him.
To not get our hands dirty for fear of giving offense would be to imply that these deaths didn’t matter, that they aren’t worth examining in hopes of preventing future horrors.
A newspaper is effectively a community’s voice in times good and bad. And at its best, it is simply a voice that speaks when no one knows what to say, and the silence hurts.