Friday, March 07, 2008

Defining "community" in the wake of tragedy on campus

This week we saw images of emotion, outpouring, sadness and determination on the pages of newspapers in North Carolina, Georgia and here in Alabama after two college students were murdered.

The Associated Press photo shown here is just one of the many images that were carried in photo galleries like the one on the Citizen-Times' Web site in Asheville, NC.

Here in Alabama at Auburn University, Lauren Burk was murdered while up at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, SGA President Eve Carson was shot to death.

While not the same degree of loss as the incidents at Northern Illinois University last month or Virginia Tech last year, these latest acts of violent crime remind us of how we may broadly define "community" in our news coverage.

Football rivalries are put aside when something like this happens. Even the geographic boundaries that might divide us are gone. Like no other medium, the local newspaper is poised to reflect this community in its coverage. It has an opportunity to gather the angles that the national media miss.

As much as it's normally considered a metropolitan newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution gets the award for drawing together the communities touched by the tragedy. Both Carson and Burk were from Georgia. So, linking the murders geographically for readers was a no-brainer.

Less obvious to the general public are the emotions, feelings and reactions of those who sit in similar places as these victims of crime-- other college campuses.

As journalists, we have to reflect community as we tell the stories of citizens uniting with those closest to the scenes of these crimes.

It's not enough to run the Aassociated Press wire or the played-out "local reax" piece. It's about capturing and reflecting the community in the way we report the news of tragedy.


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