On Saturday, I followed this story via the News Channel 15 mobile app. Within minutes of reading it, I knew the names of the victims and the suspected killer. Anyone with a Facebook account could access the profiles of three people involved, view photos and even see comments referencing one of the victims made by the man alleged to have taken their lives. (Even as late as this morning, the profiles were still accessible without restriction.)
Then, on Sunday morning, the same story appeared on the Journal Gazette’s front page. There was one critical difference, however: following their professional code of ethics, the journalists who wrote the story chose to omit the names of those involved.
Was the Journal Gazette right or wrong for withholding the names? Some might say there was no point in withholding information that was so readily available a few mouse clicks away. Given the norms that dictate newsroom policy, however, the paper didn’t have much choice. The problem is, though, the playing field is far from level these days due to the speed and scope of social media. As a result, the Journal Gazette appeared to be playing catch up when in fact the paper was just playing by the rules.
The bizarre subtext to this story–the fact that the killer alerted the authorities to his own apparent crime via a Facebook status message–presents a compelling question in our communication environment. Should the media continue to play by the same rules that have governed its decisions for decades? Or would the media be better served by adapting to a new environment where the boundaries between right and wrong–between right and right now, as it seems–are a little less clear? What’s your opinion?