Death is one of the most difficult subjects a reporter can cover. For reporters at a student newspaper, covering an untimely, unnatural student death is even more difficult. And when those student reporters are also the close friends and colleagues of the victim, reporting on the tragedy is seemingly impossible.
The Hatchet family is grieving the loss of one of our own, Jenny Dierdorff. Most of the newspaper’s staff learned of the shocking news late Friday night. We have sought the aid of the University Counseling Center this weekend but have continued to work on a newspaper that Jenny put her heart and soul into for the past eight months.
This weekend has been an extremely painful and emotionally exhausting time for everyone who knew Jenny, including the Hatchet staff. But we have had the added difficulty of reporting on her death and how it has affected those who knew her. Some students have questioned how we can publish the newspaper on schedule, only 48 hours after we were notified of her passing, and some have asked why we are reporting on the tragedy at all.
While we are still grieving and will be for some time – Jenny left an indelible mark on this publication and on our lives – we feel it is our duty to work just as diligently and professionally as she did, and publish The Hatchet Monday morning as planned. In the same vein, we feel that the tragic loss of any student is a pertinent, important story that the campus needs to learn about.
She touched our lives, and we feel it is necessary that the community read about Jenny’s life and how many people she affected. We considered how any GW student would feel if this newspaper did not cover the death of someone close to them and believe it is our duty to the community and to history to ensure that readers receive an accurate portrayal of a grieving campus. To ignore any student’s death is to ignore that person’s impact on the GW community.
At The Hatchet, we are in a unique position not only to fulfill our journalistic duty of reporting on her death, but also to pay tribute to our friend’s life. And every decision regarding our coverage of this tragedy, as well as honoring her life, has been made with careful attention to detail. From where we placed the news story on the front page to the size of her photo, to devoting a place in our staff box and staff editorial to her, we attempted to honor her with the utmost grace and dignity.
We realize that to most of the GW community, The Hatchet is a campus newspaper people pick up to read during class. But for those of us who work here, it is something we are extremely passionate about and proud of, and it is one of the most important and influential things we will do at GW. Most of the staff spends countless hours a week in our 2140 G Street townhouse working to put together this newspaper – a product we hope comprehensively informs the campus community.
Jenny’s job at The Hatchet began as a way to improve her design skills and make some extra money but quickly became something she, too, was passionate about. As our production manager, she served as one of the anchors of our organization, working with almost every other member of the business and editorial staffs as the individual who oversaw the literal creation of each issue. Jenny quickly made a permanent impact on the newspaper, and it is obvious she did the same in her sorority, at her job on Capitol Hill and in all her other campus leadership positions.
We were her friends and colleagues and will remember her by continuing to put 100 percent into every issue of The Hatchet, just as Jenny would have done herself. The Hatchet is struggling to continue on like ‘normal.’ But this situation is far from normal and will permanently alter the way we think about the newspaper staff and how we cover tragedy. We will think one more time about what the headline says, where we place the story and every word used to describe the victim – realizing now more than ever the significance every detail has to those who are affected by such a tragedy.
-The writer, a senior majoring in political communication, is Hatchet editor in chief.