An unusual question arose for editors in our newsroom last week: How many victims were there in the tragic school shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School?
The answer was more complicated than you might think. It highlighted the ways in which this school shooting was different from others we’ve had to cover over the years.
Most of the time, as in this case, the shootings happen far enough away that we rely on news services and other newspapers to provide the stories.
The language in some of those stories last week counted the shooter, Jaylen Fryberg, among the victims.
Here’s an excerpt from an Associated Press story Thursday about funerals for the three who had died at that point (since then, a fourth person, Shaylee Chuckulnaskit, died):
“The Daily Herald reports shooter Jaylen Fryberg will be buried Thursday after a traditional two-day funeral for the Tulalip tribal member.
“The paper says the funeral for one of his victims, Zoe Galasso, is set for this weekend. No word on a service for the third victim, Gia Soriano.”
If Soriano was the third victim, that implied Fryberg also was a victim.
We didn’t see it that way.
Of course, anyone who takes his own life is struggling with troubling issues. But in this incident, Fryberg victimized others.
We changed the wording in the AP story on our website. We also shared our concerns with the AP Seattle bureau chief, and the AP changed its wording in subsequent stories.
What made the Marysville incident so different from other school shootings was, indeed, the shooter himself.
Fryberg was not a quiet loner who operated on the fringes of his high school community, as is the case in so many shootings. Oftentimes, it’s days or weeks before we learn much about the shooters because nobody knew them.
Fryberg was on the football team, an up-and-coming leader in his tribe and chosen by fellow students as a homecoming prince. Plenty of people knew him, and they’ve been talking about him.
Even by midweek, however, little was known about the two girls who died. Newspapers and other media, for the most part, respected family requests for privacy and hadn’t written full stories about the victims.
It was unusual for that to still be the case days after an incident, but sometimes that’s the way the news flows.
The Marysville community has treated this shooter differently.
That led to a discussion about another story Wednesday about the growing memorial on the fence outside the high school that included posters, mementos and other tributes to Fryberg.
One editor questioned whether playing that story on our front page would be unnecessarily glorifying the shooter.
Some readers say even naming a shooter in these stories is wrong.
We don’t go that far and wouldn’t try to hide the name of the perpetrator of such a horrible crime.
But we try not to overdo it.
To bring balance, one of our editors broadened the story, adding every detail he could find about the victims from other newspaper stories.
Ultimately, managing editor Dale Phelps decided to go with the story.
“My opinion is that this does what we were hoping to do,” he wrote in an email to editors. “It touches on the seemingly unusual aspect of folks having some sympathy for the shooter and his family and gives us glimpses into the lives of the victims and how their families and friends are handling things ... these seem like worthy topics that are handled in an appropriate way.”
We will look for opportunities to share more about the lives lost and students wounded in Marysville as accounts become available.
FROM THE READER MAILBOX
The only luck we’ve had was in changing the type face and removing the Weather Underground ad from the bottom. I don’t fully understand why, but doing those things has allowed the weather page go through our computer system.
We’re not happy with the type face either.
We also are in the process of changing weather vendors, which means we’re putting together a new design for that page. You may have seen in my column a few weeks ago that our managing editor asked for people passionate about the weather to join his reader group, which is helping us make those design changes.
We’ll have a new weather page by the end of the year and will endeavor to have it include items our readers care most about and also make it more readable.
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