Why Sarah McLennan’s story was news
At the end of last week, Aspenites were hit with news about Sarah McLennan’s death.Sarah was very much a part of this community, having lived here for eight years. As one of Sarah’s bosses said the day after she was hospitalized, she was “a very well-loved girl, lots of friends.”The response to our coverage of the story confirms that she did indeed have lots of friends. We have received more than a dozen e-mails from people who are mostly angry about our reporting on the story. Sarah’s misfortune was first reported on the front page of The Aspen Times on Friday, Jan. 28. The story informed the community that a young, popular resident was on life support at Aspen Valley Hospital and was considered brain-dead. It also reported that she was scheduled to go off life support the next day, after her parents arrived in town and arrangements could be made to donate her organs.The next day, we reported the cause of her death, again on page one. The coroner told the Times that Sarah’s death was caused by cocaine use and alcohol poisoning. Coroner Steve Ayers also made it clear that she had not choked on a piece of gum, as many of her friends and acquaintances believed (and as we had originally heard).Many of Sarah’s friends have expressed anger over the decision to publish a story that announced the cause of her death. Many seem to feel that the front-page coverage was insensitive to Sarah’s family and sensationalized her death.Although no one who works at The Aspen Times knew Sarah well, we too see her death as a sad and tragic event. Who wouldn’t? Many of us know the pain of losing someone before his time, particularly in a sudden, unexpected way.But we shouldn’t hide from such misfortune. It is news that a vibrant, well-loved, 29-year-old woman died unexpectedly in this small town. And it would have been news if she’d died in a car wreck, a drowning or on the ski slope.Less than 10 days before Sarah was hospitalized, we reported the death of Stephen Butts, a former Aspenite who died in an avalanche while helicopter skiing in British Columbia. Like Sarah, Stephen Butts had been a vital and active member of the community. His death was a shock, and his story deserved to be told. That too was page-one news.It’s our purpose at The Aspen Times to tell the stories of the people who live here, both happy and sad. Readers should know that Sarah McLennan died, and they should know how she died – especially when incorrect rumors were already circulating, through our building and the rest of town.Both of these tragic deaths tell stories about this community – who we are and what we do. As a community we are able to share our grief and perhaps learn lessons because these stories have been told as accurately as possible in the hometown newspaper.
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