The recent decision of a Rocky Mountain News reporter to report the funeral of a local three-year-old via Twitter has raised questions about whether it was an appropriate use of the microblogging tool. ABC News quotes a reporter as saying that this decision “…took the notion of Twitter to staggeringly low depths.” Other commentators, including Silicon Valley Insider, have followed suit.
Others – many on Twitter – didn’t see this as a big deal. @tawnypress points out that “we tweet births, weddings, engagement, deaths, why not funerals?” @benkunz asks “what’s the diff between Tweets and a CNN live feed?” Matthew Ingram reminds us that reporting bad news from uncomfortable situations is pretty much what reporters do every day, regardless of channel. All very good points.
My take on it? Remember Larry Ellison’s famous quote: “You have zero privacy already. Get over it.” Anything we do may be blogged or tweeted about, filmed on a cell phone and uploaded to Youtube, or visible on Google Streetview. The only real privacy exists for those of us who are so boring as to be un-Googleable. So you could expect me to take an unsympathetic “welcome to the fishbowl” attitude here.
On the other hand, much of that is peer- or self-inflicted visibility. If someone chooses to tweet during the birth of their baby, or their wedding, or their father’s funeral, I support that personal decision to make a personal moment public. If journalists are at a news event of some major significance, I expect them to tweet about it. In fact some of the best Hurricane Ike coverage I saw came over Twitter.
This situation is like none of those. It’s a tragic death of a three-year-old child in a senseless accident. This kind of thing that happens more often than we’d like to think – often enough that it’s newsworthy only on a local level. The only reason we are all discussing this family’s tragedy is because some local reporter decided to create controversy by tweeting about it. Without that decision this would have remained a local news item. Read the transcript of his tweets here and tell me what you think. I think it’s crappy journalism. If you don’t, submit it for a Pulitzer Prize, but don’t get your hopes up.
If you’re my friend or family, feel free to tweet during my funeral if that’s what you need to do. If a funeral is high visibility enough that the press would be there with cameras anyway, the press is welcome to live blog it too.
But if I were that grieving father, and and I knew that someone were creating national interest in my family’s local tragedy by live-blogging the funeral – I would accost that journalist. I would take their Blackberry, iPhone, or other device forcibly away from them. And I would place it where they would no longer be able to tweet without talking out of their ass.