The beat from the editor's seat: the most difficult assignment

Last week I had to write the most difficult article of my career here at The Lamron. I had to cover the premature death of a student, 21-year-old Jodi Shaw.

As a news reporter, it is my job to acquire multiple pieces of one story from multiple sources and synthesize them into a single coherent narrative while repressing my own voice as much as possible. If I found my job difficult last week, I can only imagine how difficult it was for the people who graciously shared their stories with me to trust me with the weight of their words.

Out of respect for the voices of those who generated the story I would eventually send to be printed in the paper, I made sure that the gift of a story which I had acquired from them made it to print with no stray marks on it, nothing but completely and unequivocally substantiated information or remarks about Jodi herself from reliable sources. Not included in this category was any statement about Jodi Shaw's cause of death.

For the sake of transparency, I'll say that The Lamron had come across speculation about the possible cause of death in the case of Jodi Shaw. But speculation is not completely and unequivocally substantiated, nor is it reliable information about who Jodi Shaw was as a person, and thus not fit to appear in this particular kind of article, at least in the mind of this particular reporter.

Let me be honest. The following statement is true: The Lamron did not withhold from the article about Jodi Shaw any information it knew to be true at the time of the paper's construction. Had I acquired a statement about the cause of death that was stronger than speculation, it would have been printed.

Let me be upfront. The article about Jodi Shaw was more focused on remembering her life than on talking about her death. This was the result of both my decision in how I approached my discussions with those who knew Jodi and of the decisions of those I spoke with to share the stories they felt comfortable sharing. I synthesized the information that I had at hand, and attributed it all to the voices that I received it from.

Let me be clear. It is not my job as a reporter to take a story which I have acquired, add speculation to it and then come up with some kind of lesson which readers can take away. I don't spin cautionary tales out of the stories I am entrusted with, especially when their content is so delicate. That would be an abuse of narrative I hope I never make if another student dies during my tenure here at Geneseo.

To suggest that a reporter ought to treat the death of a fellow human being as a teaching moment is to demonstrate a lack of understanding of the intricacies of the job. An opinion columnist may feel compelled to take such a route, but not a news reporter.

Narratives are delicate things; they are to be handled with care.

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