Twittering a funeral – one misguided Web 2.0 media experiment

Media organizations have taken heat in the past for experiments with overhyped ‘Net technologies.

The LA Times “wikitorial” and the elaborate yet empty Second Life press bureaus spring to mind.

Visitors to the newspaper’s wikitorial are now greeted with a message informing the reader that the feature has been removed “at least temporarily because a few readers were flooding the site with inappropriate material.”

In 2006, no less than global news agency Reuters stationed a correspondent inside Linden Lab’s Second Life virtual world to report on events and activities of the site’s one million or so citizens. At that time, various media outfits were reporting on Second Life.

But these efforts pale in comparison with the misguided move by the Rocky Mountain News to cover a child’s funeral using Twitter.

A reporter for the Denver-based newspaper used Twitter to report the funeral of 3-year-old Marten Kudlis, who was killed last week after two cars plowed into an ice cream shop in Aurora, Colorado.

The story has transfixed the community, not only because the child and two other innocent people were killed, but also because the alleged perpetrator of the accident was an illegal immigrant with a lengthy arrest record.

The interest in the story is intense, and someone at the Rocky Mountain News decided that twittering the boy’s funeral would be a useful addition to the coverage.

The resulting Twitter entries are intrusive and morbid.

Reading tweets that say “Coffin lowered into ground” and “family members shovel earth into grave,” it’s hard not to feel anger.

Twitter is well suited for live blogging Macworld or a political speech, but inappropriate when applied to a terrible family tragedy.

But it’s important to recognize that the Rocky Mountain News’ poor judgment is at fault here, not Twitter.

Reporters cover funerals and memorial services all the time, but what was different in this case was the fact that it was done in a play-by-play manner.

Any live coverage of this event — whether done with a TV crew, blogger, or Twitter-equipped reporter — would have been similarly criticized as tasteless or intrusive.

The Industry Standard attempted to contact the Rocky Mountain News for comment, but has yet to hear back from an editor or spokesperson.

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