On life and death - in the news

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Unfathomable deaths have dominated the news this week both in the US and Europe. In the US, a former reporter murdered two journalists from his former channel in Virginia on Wednesday on air. In Europe, Austrian police found a truck with dozens of bodies abandoned on the roadside. Police suspect the bodies were remains of Syrian refugees who suffocated on their way to EU.

Both cases were covered widely and caused a debate in the US and within EU whether this kind of horrible cases should be happening in respective societies. Here in the United States this debate is about guns and their availability, in EU whether European policies force refugees to seek human traffickers as the only way to EU. Both are dangerous and cause deaths.

It is still unclear if anything comes out of this outrage many are feeling here and in Europe, but I would not be holding my breath. Gun related violence is nothing new in the US, it happens all the time. And hundreds of refugees and migrants have already died this year on their dangerous way to EU. Not much has changed.

By coincidence we had been talking a lot about death among the WPI fellows before Virginia and Austria happened. This talk was professional, mostly about covering death in news media, we do have other topics to conversate over a pint.

Death has been a topic partly because of the Black lives matter movement which we have been following. This movement was triggered by several black men being killed by the law enforcement and that becoming better and more widely known thanks to social media.  

That led us to talk what constitutes a news story. In a small and peaceful country like my native Finland almost any violent death or a death caused by an accident makes news. In bigger or more populous countries like in India and Bangladesh that is not the case, which should be obvious when you stop to think about it. It might still feel chilling, though. It makes one feel uncomfortable if builder falling to his death at a construction site is not news because it happens so often.

The reason is probably that reporting on death of not natural causes is actually advocacy journalism, although we hate to call it that and may not even see it that way. But usually we tell about those cases because we would like to prevent them happening again – be it India, Bangladesh or Finland.

Often we cannot, at least directly. But when society is aware of the causes, it might at some point act.