Tweeting from a funeral?

By | October 27, 2009

Tweeting from a funeral? Is it OK or is it in bad taste?

When I worked as a daily newspaper reporter, I covered more than my share of funerals. One was for a 7-year-old who had his head cut off with a box cutter after a home invasion. Another was for a family of two young sisters and their grandmother who all died in a fire while the mother/daughter was in prison on drug charges. The mother received special dispensation from Connecticut’s governor to attend the funeral.

Both were high profile stories that appeared on the front page of the newspaper. Both were heartbreaking.

The funerals were heartbreaking, too. I remember standing in the back, watching scenes play themselves out, and taking notes as discreetly as possible with my pen and my notebook.

Would punching out my notes on my mobile phone in 140-character sentences and sending them out to the public live on my Twitter feed during the service be essentially the same thing in this day and age?

I don’t know.

I remember taking the time after both of these funerals to be thoughtful and respectful with the words and information I delivered to the public in my story.

Maybe that’s my problem: Can you be thoughtful and meaningful on Twitter?

Maybe you can. But such immediacy leaves lots of room for thoughtlessness, too.

Twittering for a news organization during the funeral service of a private citizen is not necessarily unethical, but it feels disrespectful. Aren’t the deceased and their grieving families entitled to the full attention of everyone attending funeral services, including the press? Even the PGA forces spectators to turn off their cell phones at golf tournaments.

If you are constantly connected and communicating, you are only giving partial attention to the event at hand.

Has the public’s appetite for information become so insatiable that we’ve come to require play-by-play commentary during funeral services? Can’t the public wait until it’s over?

Or does the intense pressure on media outlets to be “first” in today’s highly competitive information climate mean that funerals are fair game for tweets, too?

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