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Covering the tragedy Crash should spur improvements, victims' stories must be remembered

This is a weekend of memorials, starting with the ringing of church bells Thursday, exactly one week after the tragic crash of Flight 3407, and continuing in local churches Sunday. There has not been enough time for healing, even in the community at large. For some -- for those who lost husbands or wives or parents or children or friends -- there may never be enough time for healing, no matter how the passage of days may dull some of the pain.

That this community grieves with them is a given. But sympathy should never be left unsaid.

For those of us in the hard business of news, sympathy is a factor. Reporters are expected to get as much detail, as accurately and quickly as they can, in order to tell the community what has happened and, eventually, why. But our reporters know, as our editors redundantly remind them, that sensitivity to the grief of victims' families is needed as well. We seek, but we try not to push too hard.

In times of deep grief, it is sometimes difficult to find where families place that line. We took some criticism from a few family members, for instance, for running an aerial view of the crash site as the investigation continued, even though that photo was carefully scrutinized before publication to ensure it contained nothing that would violate victim privacy.

We understand that. Obviously, we struggle with that balance as well. But it also is important to relay news of an event of major importance, and with major ramifications, for the community.

There are two aspects to any such story. One is what could almost be termed the mechanical unfolding of the crash itself, the hard news of icing and reactions and explosions and fires. And of deaths, in numbers and names.

The other is the human story. Every one of the persons aboard Flight 3407, and in the Clarence Center home it destroyed, had his or her own story. They all had hopes and dreams and histories and lives. Those lives ended, but those narratives survive.

We believe they should not just be listed. They should be remembered.

And it has been our job -- our duty -- to aid in that remembrance. Without that remembrance, dimensions of the victims' lives -- dimensions that are important not just to their families but to a wider community that also feels a measure of their grief, and a need to remember -- can be delayed, and then lost.

The coverage task can be -- is -- hard on many reporters. Some of our journalists thrown immediately into the task of covering this crash had been dispatched to New York City immediately after 9/1 1 to cover that tragedy. There always is pain -- internalized, perhaps, in the rush to report, but pain nevertheless. It is easy to sympathize with the families.

We have tried, through this very difficult week for the Buffalo area, to channel that sympathy into sensitive but thorough coverage of a tragic air crash, one that disrupted lives. We recognize that questions always will arise, and we have responded as well as we can -- and as consistently as possible with our duties to chronicle and analyze.

There should be outcomes to a story like this. For the "mechanical" side, the story of the crash, those outcomes should be improved safety and safety awareness, rooted in thorough and transparent news coverage that leads to as much public understanding as possible. The National Transportation Safety board has a key role in that; so do the media.

But the other outcome -- remembrance, sympathy and help -- is equally important. This was not just an event, it was indeed a tragedy. The story of Flight 3407 is far from mechanical. It is a human story. We have tried and will try to tell that with sympathy to the victims and their families. But it is important that it be fully, and humanly, told.

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