Twittering a funeral — why not?

by Mathew on September 12, 2008 · 31 comments

I have to say I’m a little surprised by all of the hoopla about a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News posting messages to Twitter during the funeral of a young boy. From the sounds of some of the coverage in other newspapers and on various blogs, you would think the guy had shown up with a camera crew and interviewed the grieving family while they were weeping by the graveside, or done a helicopter fly-by. All he did was type on his mobile during the service, as far as I can tell, and what he posted was nothing but the actions of the mourners and the rabbi. There was nothing inappropriate, nor ghoulish, nor anything that could be seen as an invasion of privacy (reporters were invited to attend).

So what’s the big deal? Journalists report on unpleasant events all the time — including car accidents, murder scenes, war and even funerals. I think the journalism professor quoted in one story who compared it to someone doing a TV standup in the middle of the event is overstating things just a tad. Did the Twittering add a huge amount to the telling of the story? Maybe not. Although I think if someone couldn’t be at the funeral and they knew the young boy or the family, perhaps they would have liked to hear about it as it was happening.

I found it interesting that amid all of the hand-wringing, the rabbi who did the service didn’t seem to see anything wrong with it at all. He seemed to feel the same way as I do — that it might have been helpful for some people who couldn’t come. Plenty of people seem to think it was in “bad taste” — including Valleywag, apparently, where they certainly know a lot about bad taste, since they engage in it so regularly. But why was it in bad taste? It wasn’t obvious (except perhaps for the sound of typing), and nor was it exploitative. It was just a reporter using another tool to extend a story. What’s so wrong about that?

Update:

There are some comments from the editor of the Rocky Mountain News quoted in this thread on a sports forum. Among other things, he says “I won’t defend twittering at a funeral in this manner, but I look at it as someone pushing the envelope of new media – too far in this case. It’s not as though this sort of thing shouldn’t be attempted in the future, but this is clearly a bad example of how to do it.” Hat tip to Westwords for the link.

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