The photo on the front of the Jamaican Gleaner was a shocking precursor to the inside, double-page spread. A mother, gripped in agony at her son’s funeral, greeted the reading public that morning.
The memorial service played out inside the daily tabloid with full-color, up-close-and-personal photos that included the minister, the casket procession and more tear-streaked faces of family and friends. It was not what someone of an American readership would expect.
This funeral seemed to be a galvanizing moment for a nation that sports the fifth highest homicide rate in the world. Fourteen-year-old Nicholas Francis was stabbed to death in Mid-October over his cell phone in a very public display of a senseless murder. The media made its presence felt at every chance, both in print and on the airwaves, culminating now with his funeral.
As much as the people of Jamaica have grown weary of the violence, they have also shown an evaporating tolerance for the media’s portrayal of the violence and its aftermath, like this funeral. They’ve dubbed this gawking “grief porn.”
Why must the victims and the family be showcased on the pages of the paper? Why must every death be complete with blood pools and explicit details of the deaths? Why does the public need to be guaranteed that body bags and wailing family members are important parts of most story?
I spent four days in Jamaica at the request of the U.S. Department of State and the Jamaican Embassy to talk about the ethics of reporting on grief and tragedy. Admittedly, I’d never heard the term grief porn, but I understood immediately what it meant.
What I didn’t understand was why it was so prevalent in the Jamaican press. In America, we’ve come (for the most part) to understand that graphic images and salacious details of murder and mayhem serve little public good. It’s usually viewed as sensationalism.
The attitudes on this island are divided.