News site says it published name of dead teen because it was already known on social media

After a 16-year-old boy died from being struck by a train in Oshawa, Ontario, police withheld his name and the family did not want it publicized. But the Oshawa This Week newspaper and affiliated website published it anyway, citing the fact that "his friends and peers have turned to social media to share their condolences, identifying him in their messages."

Many readers criticized the decision, leading Managing Editor Mike Johnston to explain in a column:

Within hours of his death last week friends were going online to express their sadness and their joy of having known him. ... We learned his name from his friends and confirmed it within hours. ... Many in the community already knew the name so we decided to include it. Our readers who don't use Twitter or Facebook would have questioned who the victim was.

Columnist Reka Szekely weighed in later, saying that reporters "creeping" for information on Facebook is "a reality of modern news coverage."

The prevalence of social media leaves us little choice but to publish the victim's name in situations like this. ... When information such as a victim's name is shared via social media, it's not shared between a closed network of friends or family members. It gets blasted out to the public where it can get re-tweeted and shared at an exponential rate.

Earlier: When crime victims tweet, new and old dilemmas meet for news organizations (Poynter)

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    Jeff Sonderman

    Jeff Sonderman is the deputy director of the American Press Institute, helping to lead its use of research, tools, events, and strategic insights to advance and sustain journalism.


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