Paper's Decision to Twitter 3-Year-Old's Funeral Sparks Outrage

A Colorado newspaper's decision to live blog the funeral of a 3-year-old boy with Twitter has prompted a flurry of criticism from the local media, bloggers and media ethicists.

Rocky Mountain News reporter Berny Morson covered the Wednesday funeral of Marten Kudlis, who died last week when a pickup truck careered into a Baskin Robbins ice cream shop in Aurora, Colo.

But instead of waiting until after the memorial service to publish a story, Morson sent real-time updates from his cell phone to the Rocky Mountain News' Web site using a micro-blogging service called Twitter.

The newspaper's use of the technology in this way has drawn the ire of journalists and bloggers from Colorado to the United Kingdom, who argue that the reporter essentially trivialized the tragedy by providing a play-by-play of the event.

"Today, Rocky Mountain News reporter Berny Morson took the notion of Twitter to staggeringly low depths," a Colorado Independent reporter wrote Wednesday after seeing the paper's report.

On its media blog, the U.K. newspaper Guardian said Morson was "going straight to the top of [its] 'Inappropriate Use of Technology' chart."

And popular political Weblog Daily Kos went so far as to call the incident "repulsive."

Most of Twitter's approximately 2.9 million members use the service to keep family members and friends up to date as they go about their daily lives. From their cell phones, members can send "tweets" -- 140-character, real-time messages -- about their plans for the day, people they just encountered or simply what they ate for lunch.

Some news organizations have started to adopt Twitter as a way to deliver breaking news alerts and better connect readers to major news events, such as political conventions or hurricanes.

But the Rocky Mountain News' decision to micro-blog a child's funeral raises new questions about appropriate -- and inappropriate -- uses of new technologies that blur the line between public and private moments.

"I think that reporters are often in the uncomfortable position of reporting from settings where people are in great grief," Samuel Freedman, a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and author of "Letters to a Young Journalist," told "These situations call for the greatest understanding and discretion on the part of the reporter.

"To be putting real-time notes out there as opposed to waiting until the ceremony is over; there's an element of pillaging a private moment of grief that I'm uncomfortable with," he said.

Although Freedman emphasized that he holds the Rocky Mountain News in high regard, he said Twittering the event is "equivalent to a TV journalist doing a stand-up in the middle of a funeral. And I find that ghastly.

"A memorial service for a murdered, for a slain child is not a fit subject for play-by-play updates," he said.

Social networking tools enable powerful and instantaneous communication but, Freedman said, "just because the technology allows this doesn't mean that you're bound and destined to use the technology in this way."

The Rocky Mountain News did not respond to several messages left by

But Rabbi David J. Zucker, who officiated at Marten's service, said his view of the paper's decision to Twitter the funeral is different from those of the critics.

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