After-the-War Coverage: While Some Iraq Special Sections Froze at the Time Major Combat Operations Ended, Other News Sites Continue to Commemorate the Casualties

Article excerpt

Scroll slowly down this Web page and see if it doesn't grip your heart: www.cnn.com/specials/2003/iraq/forces/casualties/.

There you'll find the names, ages, combat units, hometowns and circumstances of death for each U.S. and coalition serviceperson killed in Iraq since fighting began more than a year ago, sorted alphabetically. Photographs are included for nearly all of them. The effect is powerful, personal and entirely different from what a reader gets with the steady trickle of newspaper headlines reporting one casualty one day, two more the next.

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For CNN.com Senior Vice President and Executive Producer Mitch Gelman, the decision to maintain this page--as well as CNN.com's expansive special sections on the war and post-war Iraq--was a matter of course. "It's our responsibility as a national and international news organization to continue to report on the progress of the conflict and the efforts to rebuild the nation," Gelman explains. "There are many men and women who have been willing to make a great sacrifice in this conflict, and we feel an obligation to honor the memory of those who have been lost by recording the circumstances in which they gave their lives."

CNN.com readers have lauded the site's efforts. Says Gelman: "We've received many e-mails from people thanking us for honoring the soldiers, including notes from family members who we know from their letters appreciate the fact that we remember the sacrifices that their loved ones have made."

It's worthy journalistic work, clearly. The daily effort to keep a record of casualties may not be large--but it's regular and continuous. Someone needs to gather the information and photos of each soldier killed and publish them day after day, month after month. CNN.com's staff also maintains charts that categorize the fatalities by nationality, race, age, gender and hostile versus non-hostile circumstances of death.

Several other news sites update casualty trackers at varying levels of detail; washingtonpost.com's "Faces of the Fallen" is another outstanding example. It's a more highly produced Flash presentation, arranged chronologically, but with much of the same information as CNN.com's page. (When I visited in mid-March, however, it appeared to be updated less frequently.)

In these cases and in every newsroom every day, the toughest task for a news manager is not deciding which stories and projects are important, but which are most important. Part of that calculation should be whether the organization is--like CNN. …