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New Technology, Old Ritual

Patricia Sullivan

We're all in favor of technology here, especially if it helps the news get out, but Twittering a funeral seems a bit over the line, akin to a play-by-play of a burial rite.

Twitter, for those who don't spend every waking moment keeping up with new technology, is a way to send short (140-character) messages to whomever wants to receive them, via cell phones, computers, or other electronic devices.

The editor of the Rocky Mountain News, who sent a reporter to do that very thing at a 3-year-old's funeral, told his local alternative paper: "I could go to a funeral and Twitter it and you'd appreciate it, because I would do it in a sensitive way."

The Colorado Independent, which first drew attention to the episode, accused the newspaper of taking Twitter to "staggeringly low depths," and called the coverage "[u]tterly, and unforgivingly, inconceivable."

The Rocky Mountain News editor said that doing this sort of thing at a funeral is "only a controversy for journalists. It's of no consequence to readers."

What do you think?

By Patricia Sullivan  |  September 25, 2008; 2:40 PM ET
Categories:  Patricia Sullivan  
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I don't see this as disrespectful, as long as the reporter was subtle about using his Blackberry or phone while he was writing.

However, looking at the messages on Twitter, they seem respectful but not particularly interesting -- reading them after the fact, they contribute no insight. A story about the funeral wouldn't simply copy the planned program, but that's what the Twitter messages amount to.

Posted by: amk | September 25, 2008 4:22 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: orrie | September 25, 2008 6:11 PM | Report abuse

I'm active Tweeter myself, but couldn't imagine anyone attending my child's funeral and live micro-blogging it. Kind of like taking a phone call in the middle of a funeral, that just doesn't sit right with me.

And yeah, those Tweets were pretty lame for such an emotion-packed event.

Posted by: katie | September 25, 2008 7:41 PM | Report abuse

Well, why not a wifi webcam on the coffin? Shots of the dirt clods bouncing off the lid in front of the lens would be priceless. And the technology's cheap enough that you wouldn't have to go back and dig it up after dark... just leave it (and if it shows anything after that, you've really got a scoop!).

Posted by: amicus | September 25, 2008 9:21 PM | Report abuse

Everything is changing in the world of death, its reporting, and even in the disposal of the body. We read an article recently that told us matter of factly that there is now a process where the body is dissolved and, of all things, simply flushed down the toilet. We are not kidding you. They have even made improvements on cremation! We suppose that it goes back to the old tradition of burial at sea right in your own bathroom! In light of that fact, reporting the event on a slightly unusual method such as the one you list, might be, in actuality, the coming thing. With all of the changes coming to the way everything is reported these days, we should not be surprised at anything that we see, read, or hear. We are reminded of the beginning of the film version of the stage play "Paint Your Wagon" which shows a group burying some poor soul during a simple ceremony during the gold rush out west. They begin to lower the corpse into the hole, see the bright glitter, and the body goes, as the 5th Dimension song so aptly says--up, up, and away--as they all dive into the hole. Any references to what has been happening over the last decade on Wall Street to this analogy are strictly coincidental. We are, however, now so very certainly in quite a hole as we speak. Maybe they should all visit Flushing Meadows!


Lucy and Joe

Posted by: Joe Taylor | September 26, 2008 2:52 PM | Report abuse

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