Backstory from KSN&C.
There are stories, and there are stories, and there are stories, and every now and then, there are stories like that of 15-year-old Max Gilpin.
It's the kind of story that -- contrary to what some believe --
most journalists would prefer not to have to cover -- the death of someone so young, so full of hope, so full of potential.
It is also the kind of the story that demands tough questions, deliberation and honest answers.
Max died three days after experiencing breathing difficulties and collapsing at the end of football practice at Pleasure Ridge Park High School. The heat index had reached 94 degrees -- a point at which players are supposed to be allowed to drink as much water as they want. A second player also experienced breathing problems but has recovered.
This happened on Wednesday, Aug. 20, and by Friday, Aug. 22, an initial examination by the Jefferson County Public Schools had concluded that all precautions had been taken and there were no violations of district policy. On Aug. 23, Max Gilpin died.
Two stories published in The Courier-Journal since then have provoked the ire of some members of the PRP community who think the newspaper has been insensitive to the family and PRP community in general.
One story was an eyewitness account by four people who say they heard a coach deny some players' request for water. (None of them knew if Max was one of the boys, and a fifth eyewitness has come forward.) That story has prompted the school district to take a harder look at the circumstances around Max's death and triggered an investigation by the Louisville Police Department.
But some readers e-mailed us to say that story, which was published on the day of the funeral, should have been delayed out of respect for the family. The second story was about the funeral itself and, again, some thought it was insensitive to the family.
Make no mistake: We take everything we do here seriously, and these stories were no exception.
This case is a classic example of the delicate balancing act that news organizations across the country face every day in weighing the rights of the people we cover and the public's right to know.
In the case of the eyewitness account, there was never any thought of delaying the story. It was too important to hold, especially given the school district's quick rush to judgment on what had occurred. I can't think of any credible newspaper in the country that would not have promptly published a story of such importance. We would have been remiss not to do so.
You also should know that Max's mother, Michele Crockett, fully supported that story and others we have done. And, as for covering the funeral, she approved our request to cover it.
We clearly understand the sensibilities in cases such as this, and we try our best to be respectful.
But we also have an obligation to report the news.
That's our job.
We make literally hundreds of decisions a day as we go about putting out the next day's newspaper -- what stories will go where on Page One, what's the most important story of the day, what stories will go in the Metro section, what reporter will cover a certain story, and on and on and on. Some decisions are easier than others. Decisions are always more difficult when they involve the loss of someone's loved one, especially someone as young as Max Gilpin.
While our stories may have been difficult for some to read, they have raised serious questions about Max's death. Had we not published the eyewitness accounts, would the Jefferson County school system be taking a deeper look?
Would the police department be involved?
This story is too important to gloss over. Too many people have a stake in this one, including the hundreds of parents who have children in the Jefferson County school district.
Max Gilpin, a perfectly healthy young man by all accounts, died, and that shouldn't have happened.
That's why we are asking tough questions and looking for honest answers.
Saturday, September 06, 2008
This from Bennie L. Ivory, vice president and executive editor of The Courier-Journal:
Tragedy required tough questions