Editorial: On our coverage of the death of Justin Niezrecki

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This past Saturday, The Daily Campus reported on the death of UConn student Justin Niezrecki. We extend our deepest condolences to his loved ones during this trying time and hope they will be able to find peace in the wake of this tragedy.

The Daily Campus understands that those grieving the loss of Niezrecki are in unimaginable pain. We are making every effort to handle our reporting with sensitivity and consideration for those who will be impacted by the story. Every decision made was done so with a great deal of discussion and the knowledge of the responsibility we had to report this story in good faith.

In our reporting, we abided closely to standard ethics of journalism, as we do for all stories, but especially something of this nature which we know will have a profound emotional impact on readers. These guidelines are crafted with the journalistic value of minimizing harm in mind. In covering a story like this, there is no way to eliminate pain entirely, but every decision we made was with the intention of minimizing the emotional toll on those who would see it.

Some have asked why we published the article so soon after Niezrecki’s death. Saturday morning, an email was sent out to all electrical engineering majors, making his name public information. We then waited until we could get official confirmation from state police on the name before even beginning to write the story. Once Niezrecki’s name became public, we had an obligation to the community to put out accurate information in a timely manner in order to prevent the spread of harmful rumors. As one of the primary news sources for the University of Connecticut, it was our responsibility to inform the community of what had happened.

The Daily Campus also had to publish the cause of death once it was known. Reporting on a suicide is one of the most difficult things for a news organization to do. But reporting the cause of death is necessary in order to dispel fears that there may be a remaining threat to public safety out in the community. This decision was also guided by the need to put rumors, which had already been circulating, to rest.

Throughout our reporting, we consulted the guidelines supplied by reputable organizations such as reportingonsuicide.org. These guidelines are based on research and designed to prevent further harm while respecting the deceased and their loved ones. Journalistic ethical guidelines dictate that suicides should not be reported on unless they occur in a public space, which, unfortunately, Niezrecki’s death did. It is never easy to report on suicides, but the guidelines we followed in doing so take into consideration how to balance the concerns and privacy of the deceased and his loved ones with our responsibility of informing the public.

We did not romanticize or sensationalize Niezrecki’s death. We quietly updated the article without changing the headline or broadcasting how Niezrecki died. We carefully considered the impact this information would have on the community and handled it in the most sensitive way possible. While this fact is an important element of the story, it is not the main point by any means. The central aim of our coverage was to inform the community that a beloved member died and that he will be grieved and missed by many.

The Daily Campus has also been asked why we chose to refer to Niezrecki as “the body” in the first line of the story. This is, again, a common practice in reporting this kind of story. Furthermore, we had reported Friday night that police were investigating a death behind Mansfield Apartments. We felt the need to make it clear that these two stories were about the same incident to prevent readers from worrying that another person had died.

We made the strongest effort to humanize Niezrecki in the article, adding information about his life and impact on the community in the original article. We have also been adding to the article as we receive more information about his life. We are currently in touch with some of Niezrecki’s loved ones to work on a story remembering his life and the impact he had on those around him, which was our intention since the story first developed. We hope our continued coverage and celebration of his life will do justice to Niezrecki and help bring peace to the community.

None of these decisions were made thoughtlessly. These decisions were collaborative and we discussed them thoroughly, weighing all options with heavy hearts before doing anything. We understand many are in pain during this time and were naturally upset about the story, no matter how careful we were. However, personal attacks on our writers are unacceptable. As an organization, we communicated about and considered much of the story together. While The Daily Campus takes full responsibility for its reporting, individual writers should not be harassed for performing their job in a thoughtful, responsible manner in line with our editors and journalistic standards.

We hope this explanation will help people understand that every decision we made about this story was made with intentionality and consideration for how it would impact Niezrecki’s friends and family, and the community as a whole. The Daily Campus reported this story with great empathy for those who are grieving, whose pain we cannot imagine. We understand that those who loved Niezrecki are in great emotional pain right now, and we know our reporting is not easy to read. But we hope Niezrecki’s loved ones can understand that everything we have done was done with compassion and a heavy sense of responsibility.

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