The definition of “what is news?” has changed. Everyone’s story can be a story; everyone’s death can be remembered and marked publicly; everyone’s disease can be empathized. The way in which we grieve and lament (and in turn console and comfort) has been remarkably altered in the past five years.
Social networking has also changed the way journalists do their reporting, but maybe it has gone too far.
Less than 24 hours (May 6) after Johanna Justin-Jinich was murdered, a Facebook group was established in her memory. Simultaneously, her story was being told on the news, because of her alleged on the loose killer with homicidal (some anti-Semitic) notes left in his hotel room. The publication led to the greater public joining the Facebook group to express their condolences, some inappropriate, so her Facebook friends shut the wall down at the request of her family.
Here is where the “new journalism” enters.
In addition to the strangers’ postings, reporters from three news organizations posted on the wall offering their condolences and numbers and emails in case someone wanted to talk to them about Johanna and her death.
For all of you who knew Johanna, I'm very sorry for your loss. My name is Rich Schapiro, and I'm a reporter for the NY Daily News. I'm working on a story about Johanna, and am hoping to speak to people who knew her. If you're feeling up to talk, please give me a call: 212-210-2147. Or, you can send along your number. I'd be happy to call you. Thanks very much.
An awful tragedy. The Associated Press has been covering the events in Middletown and is looking for more information about Johanna so we can tell her story to the world. Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 860-246-6876.
My colleague at the New York Times, Serge Kovaleski, is working on a story about Johanna and welcomes any information her friends may want to share. He can be reached at 212 556 1652 or at email@example.com
What an interesting 21st century maneuver in reporting! Follow this: a tragedy happens, it is covered by the media, and simultaneously friends want to mourn publically, as the friends mourn publically, the media coverage draws strangers to the site of the public memorial (the Facebook wall) which is then used as a vehicle for reporters to further cover the story.
And now I’m writing about the journalists on my blog. All within 24 hours!
One might argue that the journalists are only doing their job; the Facebook group wall is just like interviewing one of Johanna’s classmates in the Wesleyan student union.
The Facebook group wall is too public for good sourcing and hence the reporting too lazy, not to mention too distasteful (but that might not matter anymore, I guess).
I only hope that her family members, if they want to, are allowed to mourn in private with the support of their community. There will be plenty of people who will want celebrity, and hopefully they will paint an accurate enough [for the journalist wall posters] picture of Johanna.
And that her murderer will be caught before he kills again.
update: they caught him.