On Wednesday morning, Tesla Motors employees Doug Bourn, Brian Finn and Andrew Ingram were killed when Bourn’s small private plane — apparently flying by instruments in fog too thick to see through — ran into ten-story high PG&E power lines in East Palo Alto.
Reporters from VentureBeat and elsewhere obtained the names of the victims fairly quickly that morning by ringing the cellphones of Tesla employees and others.
But there’s a longstanding rule among news reporters: You don’t publish the names of the deceased until you’re sure that they’ve been identified in person, and that their next of kin have been notified by police or other authorities. This prevents family members from discovering the deaths online. It’s much more appropriate that they be informed by phone calls or emails originated by those who learned about the deaths from a police officer experienced at delivering the worst possible news to loved ones.
Palo Alto Online, published by the same company as the Palo Alto Weekly, identified the three last night around 7 p.m. I talked to an editor at Palo Alto Online this morning to verify the site’s sourcing before repeating the Tesla workers’ names.
Here’s what’s astonishing: As far as we can tell, none of the many people who knew the names of the deceased put them online yesterday. No one blogged or tweeted them.
Pilot Doug Bourn was identified quickly, because it was his plane. But people who knew the names of the other two demonstrated a remarkable pattern of human common sense yesterday: Instead of using the real-time Internet to rush out the news, everyone who knew the story followed their instincts not to blab.
VB's research team is studying web-personalization... Chime in here, and we’ll share the results.