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Tragic Tweets | Mary Biever | One Writing Mother

Tragic Tweets

When I was 16, I leafed through my grandmother’s photo albums. In the trunk bottom, I opened an album of my uncle. The photo on the first page shocked me so much I set it down and cried for an hour.

I knew the story. My uncle died when he was 22, a paratrooper on leave, heading home.  His car hit a bridge embankment 3 miles from home, and he was killed instantly. My mother and her parents watched for 4 hours as they cut his body from the car.

Until that photo, I didn’t realize the horror.  A news photographer happened to stop by and take a graphic shot of the dead soldier in uniform in his car, with blood splattered everywhere. The shot was picked up by AP wires and printed in several newspapers.  My grandmother clipped the picture for the front of the album.

There was no newsworthy need for that graphic photo to be taken or printed. 

Now we see struggles between the immediate news coverage on Twitter and a family’s need for privacy.

I am grateful for real time updates on Twitter.  It’s helped me avoid traffic jams and be alert for problems.   I want to know news first.

I would hate to be in the shoes of a journalist with New Media expectations, when real time means right now.  

Now with Twitter, everyone is a journalist.  Now we can all be first to break the stories around us.

At the same time, I wonder what will be in the scrapbooks made today.  Will a mourning mother not only include a news photo but a Twitter stream of news media commentary?  Will it include screenshots of Facebook posts? Will another niece open up that scrapbook in 30 years and see graphic details that reduce her to tears?

Will that niece search Library of Congress archives and find those tweets posted in heat of the moment, from reporters and spectators? What will she read?

How do we balance real time news coverage with real life tragedies involving families whose lives can be shattered in a single moment?

How do we remember, in the impulse of the moment to post that tragedy or someone’s bad hair day that there’s a person in that photo with friends and relatives?

I have no simple answers but a final thought:

The picture we post could show the worst tragedy a family ever faces.

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