On tact

Fatal fires are, by definition, a serious issue. Therefore, it is crucial for news organizations to use utmost professionalism when covering them. The plethora of terms associated with fire can create temptation to utilize puns. For instance, take this headline.

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Cute. And inappropriate. Now, for the record, I am a huge fan of puns. I was the editor for a local arts-and-entertainment magazine written with a sarcastic tone, and I shoehorned just about any pun you could imagine into those headlines. But we were covering restaurants and concerts. There is a time and place for that kind of wordplay, and any headline with the word “fatal” in it does not qualify. The decision made by the district attorney could have been very important to members of the community — at the very least, to the families and friends of those who died in the fire. It just doesn’t make sense to put a flip headline on a story with such a serious subject. Besides, it’s not even that great of a pun.

The use of tact is also important when presenting an article. For example, look at this story.

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“What’s My House Worth?” asks the advertisement placed directly above a story about a house catching on fire. This is just an accident, I believe. When I revisited the website, there was a different ad. But still, a coincidence like that needs to be avoided. What if a family member of a victim read the article and instinctively thought a joke was being made? News organizations need to avoid potentially damaging mistakes like this one.

Now, both of these instances were not ill-intentioned, but that’s not the point. In scenarios that involve death, you have to make sure you don’t cause any more harm to people have already experienced undue suffering. Journalists are supposed to serve a community and should be doing good, but at the very least they have one responsibility.

Do no harm.



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