Brent Boyer: Telling Jenna’s story
February 11, 2011
Steamboat Springs — Like so many of us, Jenna Erickson had fallen in love with Steamboat Springs and made it her home. She worked two jobs, loved being outdoors, gave selflessly of her time to volunteer with Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports and had a boyfriend.
She would have turned 23 on Saturday. Instead, her family and friends will mourn her death during a service in Maryland.
Jenna died tragically last weekend. It was snowing, and the road conditions along U.S. Highway 40 west of town were bad. Her car slid into the oncoming lane of traffic and was struck by a pickup. She was wearing her seat belt, but her injuries were too traumatic to overcome.
I won't be so callous as to pretend to know what Jenna's parents are going through as they process the tragic death of their child. All I can do is offer my most heartfelt condolences and pray that they'll make it through this challenging time.
I know it wasn't easy for the Ericksons to read about their child's crash on SteamboatToday.com from the other side of the country. We've spent some time the past couple of days discussing our coverage of this incident and others. We've asked ourselves questions such as: How much information is appropriate in stories that deal with death? Which details are important for readers to know, and which aren't? What is the best way to provide timely updates to readers while also respecting the sensitivity of the situation?
There are no easy answers to the above questions. Serious car crashes are newsworthy, especially when they result in the loss of life. There's often a need to explain to readers what some of them may have seen while driving home from work. Beyond all of our natural human curiosity, we want to know if everything was OK, and if it involved someone we knew.
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Accurate reporting on incidents such as Jenna's can dispel rumors and clarify misinformation. It can provide answers to scenes witnessed by many, and it can offer difficult reminders that might prevent future tragedies. It also provides the opportunity to honor the deceased by telling their stories to the community.
Covering tragedies never gets easier, no matter how long you do it. But when our job calls for us to inform the community of sad news, we do it, even when we'd rather not. Our goal is to always do it with respect and to do it accurately.
None of this is important to the Ericksons today, nor should it be. What matters most is that Jenna is no longer with us. My thoughts will be with her family and friends this weekend as they gather in Maryland and Steamboat Springs. May they most remember all the wonderful time they had with Jenna and not the tragedy that brought it to an end.
Brent Boyer can be reached at 970-871-4221 or bboyer@SteamboatToday.com.