Feb 062011
Authors: Madeline Novey

On Friday a piece of the CSU community was lost in Eric Spry.

A sophomore, Spry died of what appear to be natural causes. His passing has shaken the foundations of the Spry family, Braiden’s Key Community, to which he belonged, and those dozens, if not hundreds, across campus who knew the 19-year-old health and exercise sciences major.

To all of these people, I offer with a heavy heart my most sincere condolences. For weeks, months, years, an eternity to come, life will not be the same, and for this I am terribly sorry.

At the same time emergency personnel arrived at Eric’s room Friday afternoon, a Collegian reporter, too, was on the scene. And from the moment he saw the tragedy unfold, he set about recording the details, later publishing a series of stories to Collegian.com.

In the hours after these articles were posted online, I checked constantly my e-mail and the comments posted in regard to the Collegian’s coverage of Eric’s death.

Among the concerns were a few expressed by many I would like to respond to in order to shed light on general media practices and those followed by my paper.

Explaining why the media –– the Collegian in this case –– feel it necessary to cover tragedy is a lost battle.

A reporter with his pad and camera, understandably, is the last person someone in grief wants to see, let alone talk with. Their presence is intrusive and insensitive. But I can assure you, as someone who has done so many times, members of the media feel no worse than when covering tragedy.

In the case of Eric’s death, or that of any other student, faculty member, university employee or administrator, it is our duty as the campus newspaper to report what occurred. If not just to factually report on the death, the article serves as a primary method to dispel rumors about the presence of emergency personnel but also to dispel rumors about why a particular person has died, especially for the reason that meningitis cases have greatly impacted Fort Collins and CSU since the summer.

Most vehement outrage came after we published Eric’s room number in the first of four online stories Friday. “Why would the Collegian give the student’s room? Let the family get the news first before pinpointing the student,” one comment read.

This information presented to the newsroom an ethical conundrum, one not taken lightly. In this, there are two arguments, neither of which is correct.

On one hand, the room number did narrow down whom emergency personnel had taken away and was in danger of revealing to family members the identity of their son before authorities had the chance. But on the other side, the idea of serving the greater good –– utilitarianism –– rules with an iron fist news writing and reporting.

In this case, it was decided that without inclusion of a specific room number, dozens, if not hundreds, of parents could have seen and been panicked by the article. And while we did in no way believe the panic felt by Spry’s family and that of his roommate was lesser, we hoped to minimize the fear of many.

Upset, too, came as a result of publication of Eric’s name shortly after death. Some worried that his family could have learned first of his death online. By publishing a corresponding update after the Larimer County Coroner’s Office released his name, we knew for certain that Eric’s family was notified of his death. Never will the authorities release this information to the media beforehand.

I realize not everyone will agree with the above practices. When in mourning, it is especially upsetting to see a reflective story show up online, in print or on TV. But it’s my hope that this column will shine some light on the oft-misunderstood media and its practices.
Again, I must say how incredibly sorry I am for everyone who knew Eric and the community that is now without him. My thoughts are with you all.

Editor in Chief Madeline Novey is a senior journalism major and can be reached at letters@collegian.com.

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