The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday May 25th

Column: A hard line to walk

What we hear and what we can print are different things.


Jenny Surane is the 2014-15 Editor-in-Chief. She is a senior business journalism major from Cornelius.

The job of student journalists is an odd one. We have minds that are made for social media but pens that are held to the rules of traditional media.

That means we saw your tweets and Facebook posts on Tuesday telling us the names of the three Triangle students shot and killed in the triple homicide. We saw their photos and the beautiful details about their lives.

But we couldn’t print those names. We couldn’t even investigate the leads.

Because before we begin calling friends and family asking for comment, we have to be absolutely positive that we have correct information. A reporter shouldn’t be the first to tell a mother that her two daughters and her son-in-law were killed.

So we were stuck. We put this newspaper to bed with the headline, “Three people dead in Chapel Hill shooting.”

In some ways, that felt like a disservice to you. We always want to be transparent about the information we have and the progress of our reporting.

In other ways, we knew we were publishing the only definitively accurate information we had.

We all woke up the next day — after our incredible City Editor Holly West stayed up most of the night fielding press releases from police and posting updated information to our website — to angry tweets about media coverage of the shooting.

Many of you wanted us to provide proof this was a crime motivated by the shooter’s hatred of Muslims. Those voices were heard — #ChapelHillShooting quickly became one of the top worldwide trends on Twitter.

But the motivation for the crime has not been confirmed. The Chapel Hill Police Department is still investigating and saying this shooting was motivated by an ongoing parking dispute in the Finley Forest neighborhood.

Just because police say something doesn’t mean it’s irrefutable. But their knowledge of this investigation is unmatched at this point. So our updates depend on theirs until we can prove otherwise.

It seems stupid to ask for understanding of us during a time of such tragedy — but that’s what I’m here to do.

Understand that we have to operate on a different schedule — and sometimes that might mean we can’t fulfill some requests for information on social media.

Understand that we have to be fair to everyone. We can’t publish anything that’s remotely libelous.

We’ve seen this university’s heartbreak, and we hope today’s issue can be the beginning of a response.


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