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The Compass - - EDITORIAL -

On April 14, 2014, four young men and one woman were bru­tally stabbed to death at a house party in north­west Cal­gary. By the next af­ter­noon, the sus­pect - 22-year-old Matthew de Grood - was in jail and the city was in shock.

It was a hor­rific tragedy. Emo­tions spilled over. Fam­i­lies were dev­as­tated. It was a time for solem­nity and re­spect.

Nonethe­less, within less than 48 hours, Canada’s largest daily pa­per, the Toronto Star, pub­lished in­ti­mate de­tails about the vic­tims and the sus­pect.

De Grood, read­ers learned, grew up in the Cal­gary neigh­bour­hood of Scenic Acres. He had com­pleted a de­gree in psy­chol­ogy from the Univer­sity of Cal­gary. A friend de­scribed him as “nice, if a bit shy in school.”

Friends and fam­ily are re­liv­ing that hor­ri­ble night again this week as the De Grood trial un­folds in Cal­gary. And, as ex­pected, the me­dia are cov­er­ing it closely.

Me­dia get a lot of flak over cov­er­age of shock­ing events - fa­tal crashes, mur­ders, etc. Peo­ple feel for fam­ily mem­bers being dou­bly trau­ma­tized by see­ing their per­sonal tragedies play out in public. That com­pas­sion is univer­sal, and is shared by those who re­port the news.

On the other hand, it seems many in this prov­ince con­sider even the slight­est in­tru­sion into per­sonal back­ground to be a shame­less plunge into sen­sa­tion­al­ism. We are ex­ploit­ing tragedy, tit­il­lat­ing cu­ri­ous minds - noth­ing more. This is un­fair, to say the least. One can only imag­ine the out­cry if the me­dia sup­pressed cov­er­age of such gut-wrench­ing mo­ments.

Who is this vic­tim? Is it the same per­son I know? Who could do such a thing? Was it a ran­dom act? Was it some­one the vic­tim knew?

The po­lice hold many of th­ese facts close to their chest - not so much to pre­serve pri­vacy, but be­cause of a zeal­ous de­sire to pro­tect ev­i­dence.

It’s left to the me­dia to fill in the gaps as ac­cu­rately as they can.

Yes, peo­ple have mor­bid cu­riosi­ties. They also have em­pa­thy, con­cern and char­ity. We want to know more about th­ese ter­ri­ble sto­ries be­cause they rep­re­sent the raw­ness and ran­dom­ness of the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence. They help us un­der­stand and feel for oth­ers and, in turn, teach us about our­selves.

There are bound­aries, but they aren’t well-de­fined.

For ex­am­ple, read­ers want to know why we’d post a pho­to­graph of a smashed up car. In part, it’s be­cause that bru­tal re­al­ity can serve as a vis­ual warn­ing to driv­ers about the po­ten­tial cost of los­ing fo­cus for even a sec­ond or two. It can mean lives being changed for­ever, or lives being lost.

Can we go too far? We can. And read­ers will let us know when we do.

But don’t ex­pect us to shy away from the ugly side of life. This is the beat­ing heart of news, a mir­ror on our­selves.

It is, in short, our job.

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