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Assessing coverage of a recent student death: what did readers need?

by on April 17, 2012

A blog posting about a Boston College student whose body was discovered in a local resevoir called to mind recent in-class discussions regarding post-death news coverage.  Coverage like this begs the ethical question of how much is too much too soon when approaching a grieving family.

The news story, posted to’s frequently updated Metro Desk section on April 12, focused on familial grief in the aftermath of police finding 21-year old Franco Garcia’s body.  Here’s a quote from the opening paragraphs of the post, illustrating the article’s questionable insensitivity:

Jose Garcia, Franco’s father, tightly clasped his hands together in front of his face as he stood on the sidewalk near the family’s Webster Street home, his eyes red and teary.

“It’s just so tough right now for the family,” he said before walking back into the house.

Franco’s mother, Luzmila Garcia, sat on the front steps, crying profusely, before being led back in the house by two women who were sitting with her.

Do readers really need to know this?  What genuine public interest is gained from journalists stalking a grieving family’s house and giving a Live-tweet-esque play-by-play of which relatives were walking in and out crying?  Frankly, is it at all surprising that a family gathered together at their house to mourn immediately after the learning of their relative’s death?

Some may argue that post-death news coverage of this nature has long been a professional standard, but even if journalists are genuinely and honestly trying to uphold the practice of thorough “breaking news,” at what point does that standard have to ethically yield to a fact-based assessment of individual cases?

On the other side of the coin is the argument of death coverage’s potential for capturing raw emotion evoking a humanizing effect on the larger issue.  In a way, if this student was harmed by someone resulting in the death, such stories showcasing the family’s grief have a sort of retributive and meaningful place in being told publicly.  In addition to raising awareness, maybe others out there who know information about the death or others involved in similar suspicious deaths/disappearances could see something like this Globe photo and be moved to act.

Still, it is important to note the proximity of this post to when the body had been identified as well (the same day, as the story’s photo caption implies).  This consideration seems particularly relevant as it relates to evolving norms in online news publication.

Do you think this post was out of line, or just adhering to standard journalistic practices? For me, the lead paragraphs of this story were both ethically out of line and adhering to the standard journalistic practices- practices that should perhaps be tweaked in light of the industry’s increased demands to produce rapidly unfolding online news.  What are your thoughts?


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  1. I think it is not necessarily needed to write about the reaction of the family, because readers always know that it is going to be a sad and passionate one. Nevertheless, it makes the story stronger by being able to paint a picture of how the family reacted towards the loss of their family member. It makes the readers know that the story is a profound one. The only time where I will be furious about a report on a families reaction of a loss is when the journalist use the whole article to write about the pain. There should only be a quick paragraph that describes the families pain. The rest of the paragraphs should focus on the individual, who he was, where he lived, what he did, and how he was regarded in his community. There should also be a large paragraph that focus on police investigation. Once again, adding a paragraph about the families reaction is not a taboo but it should be small in the length in regards to the article.

  2. In this article, what the parents said is not significant. They expressed their sadness by making a general statement, which is expected of any parents that just lost their child. I don’t think it was necessary. I suppose it makes the article more personal, but I don’t think the parents need to leave a comment. I think they should be interviewed for important information such as details about when the child was missing and a little bit about his life.

    When I was reading this article I cared about the facts of how and when this happened and who this kid was. The parents quotes didn’t make any difference in the story to me. I just want the cold hard facts about how this all happened. It’s naturally an emotional story, so it doesn’t need more to add to it.

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