March 19, 2011

Column: Decisions made more difficult by Internet

One of the many difficult decisions we have to make at the Press-Republican is when to publish the name of someone who dies in an accident or fire.

Reporters are sometimes called "ambulance chasers," but that implies we take some kind of glee in going to accident scenes. I still remember the first fatal accident I covered. I hadn't been on the job long and was a reporter Monday through Thursday and the photographer on Sundays.

As soon as I arrived at the accident, I could tell it wasn't good. The car was mangled, and EMTs were covering up the man they had extricated.

After he was loaded into an ambulance, I started taking pictures — we don't use photos of bodies. When I was done, I walked to a nearby house to call work — no cell phones then — to tell them it was a fatality. The whole way back to the office, I was fighting tears. I couldn't stop thinking about the man's family getting such shocking news.

It never got any easier over the years to hear about a serious accident. We all have families, so we all know the heartbreak ahead for someone. But we have a job to do — to tell people the major news of the North Country.

The Internet has changed so much for our newsroom. While we used to have no recourse for sharing news other than to wait until the next morning's paper, we now regularly publish stories throughout the day on our website. This has presented many opportunities, as we can get articles and stories online within minutes of news happening. But it has also brought new challenges.

Just recently, we covered a fire in Schuyler Falls. Once Fire Control started calling in numerous fire departments, we dispatched a reporter and photographer and started getting together an online article about the fire, which included the address. We had no idea a death was involved; fire fatalities are rare.

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