Inside Our Pages: Reporting deaths tough on writers

Student deaths are without question the hardest stories for a student newspaper to report. Balancing our duty to cover important events that affect GW with a responsibility to respect ramifications of making a private life public is a judgement game that will never completely satisfy all readers.

The Hatchet generally places stories about deaths of members of our community on the bottom-right corner of our front page. A death of one of our own is certainly something we should all be aware of, and we strive to deliver the news to the community respectfully without making it a spectacle. A violent death, which was the case earlier in the year, gets higher prominence because safety is the main issue.

In the case of student suicides, which we reported on last week when sophomore Joe Spradlin passed away, it is difficult for reporters to give crucial information about an important issue without drudging through personal information family and friends want to keep private for understandable reasons.

You will notice that news of Spradlin’s death was placed on the bottom-right corner of the front page. This was certainly a private issue that does not concern student safety. In the story, we delayed telling you details of the death because, as the student newspaper, we respect Spradlin as a person who is important far beyond how he might have passed away. As uncomfortable as we knew it would be to read, we also mentioned issues that might have led to this tragedy so that we can all have a better understanding of this increasingly common phenomenon among young adults.

An additional story on the general issue of suicide appears next to the main news report. The numbers are staggering, and we should all be aware how widespread youth suicide is. What is clear through researching the issue is that the warning signs are often very subtle if they are there at all.

Thank you to all of Joe’s friends who shared his life with your student newspaper under the most difficult of circumstances. Their hope to memorialize an important friend is also our hope, and we all benefit from a better understanding of the community around us.

While reporting student deaths is challenging, it does bring out some positive aspects of our community as a whole. It was amazing to hear how many people were touched by Joe. It was inspiring to hear how deeply he impacted lives of people closest to him.

GW students have strengthened this community by responding well to tragedies. More than 15 students booked flights to Atlanta for Joe’s memorial service as soon as they heard the news. They spread the word about their good friend so that he would not be forgotten, and they will share the lessons they learned in his presence.

Charity funds for Tom Weaver and Jonathan Rizzo only paint part of the picture of the strength of our community. A candlelight vigil for Rizzo that filled the quad is only a glimpse into its vitality. We have accepted that tragedies are inevitable at any college, but we refuse to slip into silent acceptance.

–The writer, a senior majoring in journalism, is Hatchet editor in chief.

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